How can we engage more women and girls in science?
For the past four years, the 11th February has been celebrated as ‘International Women and Girls in Science Day’ – a day which aims to ensure full and equal access to science and science careers for females.
This awareness day has made great strides in raising awareness of the challenges that girls and women face when trying to branch into science, yet there is still a long way to go. According to a recent UN study from 14 different countries, the probability for female students graduating with a Bachelors Degree in science is only 18% - compared to the male equivalent which is 37%!
Dr Marisa Lopez Teijon is Director of Research at the internationally leading fertility centre, Institut Marques (www.institutomarques.com/en) - an area of science and medicine which has predominantly been dominated by men. She believes that society has a big part to play in the challenges that prevent women from entering the world of science:
“Although the proportion of women with higher education is increasing, there are still very few who devote their professional lives to research. This is not as a result of a lack of talent or willpower - but because of the difficulties that society puts in their way. For instance, at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), 57% of researchers in training are women; however, only 24% of these women get to be head researchers.
A colleague once said to me, ‘Science is a long- distance race and we cannot tell girls they can be whatever they want and then let this happen’. This, I think, is because of several reasons:
- In the research world, motherhood is met with disapproval. The degree of dedication and competitiveness that it requires ends up penalising women who want to be mothers against men. This happens in most careers, but especially within this area. As a result of this, professional progression is much rarer for women.
- Discrimination as a result of traditional prejudices which say that women have less talent and less inclination to science and technology than men.
- A lack of recognition.
- A lack of information and education surrounding the opportunities that are available to women.
As a female researcher, I am constantly facing all of these problems. For example, often when I ask to talk to an expert about a particular piece of work I have in hand, they will ask me who the head investigator is - assuming it will be a man and not me. Or sometimes when a call comes through to me, the caller assumes that I am Dr Teijón’s secretary and asks to be put through to ‘him’ - because they expect to hear a male voice.“
Sadly, the result of these outdated presumptions and practices is a loss of promising talent for the scientific community. Dr Marisa is on a mission to turn this around:
“What I tell girls who are frustrated when they want to devote their life to science but cannot is:
- The main quality of being a researcher is creativity. Creativity is not a subject taught at school nor an occupation for a few hours a day. It is a way of being and thinking. All the same, it requires a lot of discipline.
- To be a female researcher you have to learn how to communicate so that people understand what you do.
- It is essential to be a team worker. Today, nobody does anything important on their own.
- Have determination. Nobody should deflect you from your dreams!“