17 May 2023

Women in STEM

In this blog, Tahira Fitzherbert, one of Tutor The Nation’s Volunteer Ambassadors, shares some more information on the work that needs to be done to encourage more women into STEM, and explains how volunteering with Tutor The Nation can help make a difference.

The 11th of February 2023 marked the UN’s eighth International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Notably, in the UK, A-Level Biology is now predominantly comprised of female students and the numbers in Chemistry are proportional to the number of girls doing A-Levels1, which is undeniably a positive step towards closing the gender gap in science. However, only 35% of undergraduates in STEM programmes (science, technology, engineering and maths) are women2. This is a problem. 

It is vital to encourage those who have been historically underrepresented in STEM subjects into these fields, to provide them with equal opportunities to explore these disciplines. For society to reach its full potential, people from different walks of life need to be included in developing the sciences. As science becomes increasingly embedded in our everyday lives, women need to be part of the scientific advancements that will shape our future. In doing so, our technology will reflect the needs of all members of the society it serves. Whilst comprising half the population, women today only account for 24% of graduates in physics3, 40% of graduates in computer science and 28% of graduates in engineering4. As a result, those currently building our future infrastructure, both physical and virtual, are failing to accurately represent communities that are too often excluded from the scientific conversations dictating the future of humanity. Given that artificial intelligence is playing an ever-increasing role in our world, all members of the population must be involved in its development, to eliminate the inherent biases which would otherwise be perpetuated by a homogenous group of creators.

Underrepresentation also means there is a mass of unharnessed talent and potential which has not and will not be utilised. There have been many incredible women who have made vast contributions to the sciences: Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer; Katherine Johnson, whose calculations made the Apollo 11 mission possible (as depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures); Emilie du Chatelet who translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica into French and Marie Curie, the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different sciences (physics and chemistry). These are just a few examples of the immense capacity women possess to make profound contributions to the advancement of science and technology.

Everyone needs to be given the confidence to pursue their ambitions; role models of different genders, races and ethnicities serve as examples of what can be achieved. A volunteer leads by example, in this case advocating for the lives and work of female scientists and working towards creating a more equal and representative generation of scientists. The role of a volunteer is a rewarding one. To be able to inspire others and bring to life the magic of a subject is incredibly fulfilling. It is through the work of volunteers, trailblazers and role models that the gender gap in STEM will one day close. 

Sources

1 – Plaister, N. (2021) Which A-Level subjects have the best (and worst) gender balance? Available at: https://ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2021/09/which-a-level-subjects-have-the-best-and-worst-gender-balance/.

2 – Davies, K. (2022) Women in STEM Statistics. Available at: https://www.stemwomen.com/women-in-stem-percentages-of-women-in-stem-statistics.

3 – Students in UK physics departments (no date). Available at: https://www.iop.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/Student-characteristics-2017-18.pdf (Accessed: February 10, 2023).

4 – United Nations (no date) International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/women-and-girls-in-science-day.

Bibliography

Corbyn, Z. (2020) Catherine D’Ignazio: “Data is never a raw, truthful input – and it is never neutral.” Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/mar/21/catherine-dignazio-data-is-never-a-raw-truthful-input-and-it-is-never-neutral.

Crawford, C., Cattan, S. and Cassidy, R. (2022) Why don’t more girls study maths and physics? Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/articles/why-dont-more-girls-study-maths-and-physics.

Davies, K. (2022a) Women in STEM Statistics. Available at: https://www.stemwomen.com/women-in-stem-percentages-of-women-in-stem-statistics.

Dossi, S. (2022) How is the current STEM gender bias? Available at: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/233901/how-current-stem-gender-bias/.

Plaister, N. (2021) Which A-Level subjects have the best (and worst) gender balance? Available at: https://ffteducationdatalab.org.uk/2021/09/which-a-level-subjects-have-the-best-and-worst-gender-balance/.

Students in UK physics departments (no date). Available at: https://www.iop.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/Student-characteristics-2017-18.pdf (Accessed: February 10, 2023).

United Nations (no date) International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Available at: https://www.un.org/en/observances/women-and-girls-in-science-day.

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