February 11 marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This annual celebration aligns with SDG 5 (Gender Equality) in recognising the critical role that women and girls play in the scientific field.
Unfortunately, figures show that women are underrepresented in the scientific sector, particularly in leadership roles. In the US, women fill just 25% of STEM roles in the workforce. Studies have also shown that women publish fewer papers than men and are less likely to be credited as authors compared with their male research colleagues. According to UNESCO, just a third (33.3%) of researchers globally are female.
Why are women underrepresented in STEM?
There are many possible reasons for the underrepresentation of women in STEM. Scientific careers are sometimes viewed as more ‘masculine’ and these stereotypes can put young women and girls off, especially when they don’t see female role models paving the way. Women who do go into STEM careers can face more challenges than men: they’re often paid less, struggle more with inflexible working arrangements, can be overlooked for roles or promotions due to unconscious bias and may even experience sexual harassment in the workplace. These are just some reasons that might explain why women leave STEM careers at higher rates than men.
Why is this a problem?
The underrepresentation of women in science effects everyone, not just women. Diversity benefits science and boosts the quality of research and innovation by bringing together a range of people with different experiences and viewpoints. In business, strong gender and ethnic diversity even leads to better profitability. The whole sector suffers when there is a lack of diversity.
As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay says: “women need science, and science needs women. Only by tapping into all sources of knowledge, all sources of talent, can we unlock the full potential of science, and rise to the challenges of our time.”
What’s the picture like in the EU?
The European Union recognises gender equality as a fundamental value because of the benefits it can bring to research and innovation. But while there have been improvements in recent years, there’s still much work to be done to improve gender equality across Europe.
According to the European Commission, women make up 52% of the European population but just 2 out of every 5 scientists and engineers are female. The European Commission has committed to promote gender equality in its Gender equality strategy 2020-2025. This includes the aim of reaching a 50:50 male:female balance on Horizon Europe boards, expert groups and evaluation committees.
How can we promote better gender diversity in STEM?
Creating better gender equity in STEM is a complex issue but there are some things that can be done to help, such as: encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects at school; showcasing female role models; identifying and resolving gender inequalities in hiring, promoting and allocating funding to female scientists; promoting flexible and inclusive working environments; and providing gender equality training to team members.
EMBRC’s commitment to gender diversity
As part of our commitment to gender diversity, EMBRC has written and published a Gender Equality Plan. This outlines measures including flexible working arrangements, promoting more gender balance on our Boards and Committees and implementing gender equality training to all staff.
Read more about EMBRC’s Gender Equality Plan.