The number of women in STEM has risen in the last few years but it is still considerably lower than the proportion of men. A government-run study from 2018 found that it would take more than 20 years for women to make up 40% of all professors. This has led to societal and governmental interventions to improve this statistic as well as a woman-powered movement for equality with their scientific peers. In Ireland, almost three-quarters of professors are men and in science-related fields only 16% of professors are women.
Many studies have examined the need for an emphasis on women in science and what part female role models could play in shaping young female minds. It was found that by having a female role model in science young women were more likely to feel comfortable going into a male dominated field and succeeding in this field.
The effect of role models can be acutely seen by looking at quotes from famous male scientists who almost always quote other famous male scientists as being their inspiration for going into science. The addition of successful and confident female scientific figures such as Rosalind Franklin and Jane Goodall into legend have ignited a hope for women to live up to the scientific prowess of these women and hopefully be able to quote them in the future for their own accomplishments.
The issue preventing many women from climbing the ladder at work is the fact that many of the higher managerial posts in universities are held by men and often men that are comfortable in their jobs. There are multiple organisations now in operation that aim to change these societal norms. In UCD this includes the ‘Women in STEM’ society, which is a network that supports women in UCD pursuing STEM careers. They aim to ‘form a community that challenges cultural norms, fosters personal networks and provides information’ and they host many events throughout the year that provide information about career opportunities as well as recognising the achievements of women in STEM.
The government’s ‘Senior Academic Leadership Initiative’ (SALI) has been put in place which provides funding for women in Higher Education Institutes (HEI) across Ireland as professors. In 2020, 20 jobs were offered across the HEIs. This year UCD advertised for a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and a Professor of Materials Chemistry specifically for women under the SALI initiative. This is a step forward in reducing the present gender inequality as well as influencing the mindset of young women to show them that being a science professor is something that they too can achieve.
Jade Norton – Science Writer