‘Women in Science’ at the Royal Society

When I received an invitation to the ‘Women in Science’ event at the Royal Society, I gratefully accepted not only because this is the topic du jour and you cannot ignore it, but also because I think you shouldn’t. Although I am not a scientist myself, strictly speaking, I have been following the discussion around ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ subjects and their relation to gender for quite a while. Being surrounded by young women who explore the field of Mathematics, Biochemistry and Astrophysics, I tend to forget that this sample is by far not representative of the general situation. Turns out, my friend was the only girl in her year who did Astrophysics at UCL and did not have a single female professor through out the four years of her studies. According to the recent report by the Institute of Physics 49% of maintained co-ed schools sent no girls on to take A-level physics in 2011, while all at girls’ school girls were almost two and a half times more likely to go on to do A-level compared to co-ed schools.

This was one of the issues raised during the panel discussion led by Uta Frith FRS on women’s experiences in science, and diversity in the scientific workforce more generally. Is there a genetic (read gender-related) disposition for specific subjects? Is it legitimate to say that ‘girls simply don’t like sciences’ and that’s why they don’t choose these degrees? Do you have to be a ‘pushy’ woman to be able to make it as a scientist?

While listening to contributions by incredibly intelligent women, I caught myself thinking that the same trends seem to seep through all the industries and areas of knowledge. There I was, amongst these talented women (and a handful of men), wondering how to ‘save’ the world and achieve egalitarian circumstances for everyone, regardless of their background, gender and career aspirations. These are only three of the suggestions that we managed to develop, see what you can make out of them.

  1. Teach science teachers how to teach and make the subject more interesting and interactive
  2. Stop enforcing gender stereotypes: buy your little cousin or niece a microscope or a grow-your-own-crystal instead of a dance CD or a Barbie
  3. Create role models for girls and women, e.g. Royal Society’s initiative to create more Wikipedia pages for female scientists

Most of us will agree that today direct sexism is (almost) dead, the problem lays more in the underlined and unsaid assumptions and opinions. The question remains though, how do we fight these?

Check out the Royal Society’s Video Lectures and get inspired!

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