According to UNESCO, less than 30% of the world’s scientific researchers are women. This figure is akin to that found in most STEM degrees and jobs and has profound implications, both at a societal and educational level. Women and girls face several barriers to initiating scientific careers, some acting from an early age and both from family and educational settings. The strength of stereotypes makes many girls think in science and technology as masculine fields, which helps create a vicious circle in which science settings become increasingly unattractive for women. Even the fear of confirming negative stereotypes can make it difficult for girls to express an interest in science and reduce their motivation.
Furthermore, the potential loss of women’s perspective in such vast fields as medicine or computer science can have profound adverse societal effects. One striking example of this comes from emergency medicine: we now know that the symptoms of heart disease in women were misdiagnosed in emergency rooms, cutting down their chance of survival, because studies about cardiovascular disease were traditionally carried out only in male populations. This specific type of gender bias had, as a result, an incomplete (and biased) profile of cardiovascular risk that significantly harmed a large number of diseased women. There are more examples, such as Rosalind Franklin’s story and how her foundational work on the structure of DNA remained uncredited for years regardless of it leading to two Nobel prizes. The inspiring story of the black women at NASA contributed to the calculations necessary for the USA to win the space race, to name two of the more popular.
To bridge this gap asks for a comprehensive effort at all levels of society, particularly important for all the educational institutions in the world. At Princess Margaret International School, we aim to ensure that all our students reach their full potential and turn themselves into forces of change in the world. Our female students are encouraged to pursue their interests, giving them the most comprehensive array of tools at our disposal, with a particular stress of the STEM disciplines to understand and interact for the world. This February 11th, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, our Secondary students have launched an awareness campaign in which they have learned about the contributions of many female scientists in the world, telling us why each of these scientists is inspiring for them. They have also designed a poster about striking examples of the gender gap in science and potential barriers (or solutions!) that help us understand this gap. Finally, the older students have created a video to create awareness about this issue in which they share some of their ideas about the importance of women’s participation in science.
In this post, you can see the results of this awareness campaign, through which the students of ESO at Princess Margaret International School are learning about one of the issues they will face in their continued effort to make the world fairer and better for everyone.