We need to educate girls with a belief that they can become just what they want. Women in research can explore space, discover vaccines and be part of a future marked by progress and equality.
Sometimes you have to analyze the mistakes of the past in order to create a better future. Making a more concentrated effort to get women and girls inside the world of science is one of the keys to building a more equal future.
Until quite recently, research has been very male-dominated. However, we are slowly moving towards a more reasonable equality.
If you ask any girl or boy to draw a scientist, most people will probably draw the same thing: An older man in a white coat. Think of Doc from Back to the Future. Similarly, if you ask people to name a woman who dedicated her life to science. Most would have a hard time getting on anyone other than Marie Curie.
Rita Levi-Montalcini, Lise Meitner, Sophie Germain or Marie Anne Pierette-Paulze are not names everyone knows. Maybe it’s because men like Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Nicola Tesla or Louis Pasteur have completely overshadowed them, in the world of science. Men have always had more opportunities, better positions and more prestige.
Does this mean, then, that very few women have devoted their lives to science, throughout the history of mankind? Not at all. The problem is that most of them were overshadowed by men.
A good example is Mileva Maric-Einstein, Albert Einstein’s first wife. According to her biographies, she was a crucial part of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which ended up winning a Nobel Prize.
Girls and women in research
February 11 is International Day for Girls and Women in Science. The UN has set some concrete goals for development over the next fifteen years. One of them was to put an end to discrimination.
Science, technology, engineering, mathematics… The presence of women in these fields is increasing, which is good. That being said, there are some factors that will determine gender equality in the future. Let’s take a closer look at these aspects.
The problem of gender imbalance
According to UNESCO reports, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Similarly, only 3% of female students at higher education institutions choose information and communication technology studies. In fact, women make up only 8% in fields such as science, statistics, mathematics and engineering.
Do women simply not have the skills to work in these areas? That is clearly not the case. But there is a problem. A real inclusion of girls and women in research requires a lifting of the gender imbalance. Today, children already at the age of 8 internalize ideas about what is “for girls” and what is “for boys”.
Children usually imagine male engineers, scientists, and university professors. Such prejudices must be addressed at a very young age if we are to promote gender equality. Encouraging girls to take an interest in science, and ignite their scientific curiosity, will certainly create some important changes.
Why are there no more women in important jobs in science?
We must realize an indisputable fact. As we move up the career ladder, we see fewer and fewer women. There are more men than women in management and in decision-making positions. Why? In general, the problem is the failed measures that should strengthen gender equality. Society still sees male researchers as more competent.
In addition, one of the biggest challenges for many female researchers is getting their motherhood to fit into their professional careers. Often women are unable to hold positions of greater responsibility because there is no apparatus in place to support working mothers.
There is another important factor that is worth taking into account. The well-known “Matilda effect”, named in 1993 by the historian Margaret W. Rossiter. According to Rossiter, people tend to value men’s work higher than women’s work.
Women’s scientific advances and discoveries are often overshadowed. Or worse, a man ends up getting the credit for a woman’s work. The result is that the female researcher is excluded, unable to get her work funded, published or promoted.
Girls and women in research: A hopeful future
In short, we should teach girls that they can become exactly what they want. Let’s open their eyes to the gigantic world of cosmology, the tiny universe of genetics, and the fascinating span of engineering. The inclusion of women and girls in science requires education and opportunities.
All boys and girls, regardless of their situation or country of origin, should have the opportunity to study what interests them. It is, after all, passion that leads to scientific and technological progress.
The fact that there are people in a field who are genuinely and sincerely interested in their work is what enables us to develop. If we raise our children on an equal footing, and enable them to develop professionally without prejudice and obstacles, then everyone wins.