Last Thursday February 11 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. My social networks were filled with publications around the subject, with women who have made history in science, with motivational words, but also with depressing statistics.
It is an honor to be able to celebrate this day as a woman in science, and even more so, to receive congratulations. It fills me with pride to be able to share this day with the rest of the women and girls who are interested and who are passionate about science, not forgetting those who previously provided valuable contributions.
Honoring this very special day, it is my duty to comment on the disparate gender statistics in science, in a way that helps raise awareness about the issue and motivate all women who are passionate about science to pursue those dreams.
In my personal development as a scientist up to now, all my supervisors and most of the professors have been men. Now, nothing against them, I have had the great luck to meet supervisors and teachers who have supported and motivated me throughout my career, some of them have even become great mentors. But this does not remove the fact that the problem exists, not only in science but also in technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM, for its acronym in English) and More diversity is urgently needed to close this gap.
Let’s look at the statistics; according to The UNESCO, only 35% of students enrolled in STEM areas are women, only 28% of all researchers are women. Another example is that only 17 women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine compared to 572 men …
Why is there so much disparity?
It’s no surprise that studies conclude that there are various factors that play a preponderant role, as individual, family, social and school factors; it should be noted that skill factors they do not fall within these. In addition, it has been shown that these gender differences start early, accentuating until reaching higher education levels. Therefore, women disproportionately drop out of STEM disciplines during the transition to the world of work or even during university studies, and consequently fewer women go on to obtain masters and doctorates. There are also important contextual factors of a socio-economic nature that play a decisive role in this problem.
Much of the scientific studies are carried out thanks to the funding provided by various organizations after a fairly competitive process. That is, in most cases you have to apply to compete for this financing. Therefore, these applications are quite important for the academic development of the candidate. That being said, a study showed that women received less funding than men, not because of the quality of their application and work, but because of gender biases. This has implications for the number of scientific articles published by women, that they are indeed less than men. In conclusion, there is definitely a systemic problem in science that needs to be solved. And yes, it has improved little by little over the yearsBut the gender gap is still disproportionate.
The historical exclusion of women in science has caused sexism to still be a fairly common phenomenon in this area. The matilda effect (“The Matilda effect”, in English), is a term that was coined by the historian Margaret W. Rossiter 1993 and it is defined as: “the tendency against recognizing the achievements of those scientists whose work is attributed to their male colleagues”. A classic example of this term is the case of physicist and pioneer of nuclear technology, Dr. Lise meitner. Dr. Meitner developed the studies that eventually led to the discovery of nuclear fission, however, the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to her colleague Otto Hahn. Another similar case is that of English chemistry, Rosalind franklin whose work on X-ray crystallography on DNA was shared without their knowledge to scientists Watson and Crick, who received the information from Franklin’s supervisor, Mr. Wilkins. This information was essential to finally decipher the much sought after structure of DNA, but the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA was awarded only to Watson, Crick and Wilkins.
We all lose when there is no equality in something as fundamental as science and there is no reason for these to remain the circumstances. A 2019 study emphasizes that gender equality in the areas of science, medicine and global health achieves great benefits at the social, economic and health levels.
If you are passionate about science yourself, I invite you not to be limited by this gender gap, but rather empower you to pursue your dream Because we need them! And if you have friends, daughters, granddaughters, cousins, nieces (etc.) who are passionate about science, encourage them to follow this path. It benefits us all.
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