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Improving prospects for women in science

Women in science

Marking International Day of Women and Girls in Science we consider the progress females are making in the science and technology arena.

11 February 2020

Muriel Cozier

On 22 December 2015 the United Nations General Assembly established an annual International Day to recognise the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women, institutions and civil society partners.

According to UNESCO data, between 2014 and 2016 only 30% of all female students selected STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in natural science, mathematics and statistics at just 5%, while in engineering, manufacturing and construction it stands at around 8%.

UN Secretary General António Guterres commented ‘To rise to the challenges of the 21st century, we need to harness our full potential. That requires dismantling gender stereotypes. On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s pledge to end the gender imbalance in science.’

In a move to better understand the hurdle that women in science and technology are yet to overcome, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) established a series of indicators to look at the dynamics shaping women’s decisions to pursue STEM careers. The indicators, which were established during 2015, consider parameters from educational pathways through to workplace environment and family. The data is being used as an evidence base to better target policies at the national, regional and global levels through a project known as STEM and Gender Advancement (SAGA), which is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.  The SAGA project has several aims including a reduction in the gender pay gap and increasing the visibility, participation and respect of women in STEM.

In the UK, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign has called on employers, professional bodies and educators to set a target of achieving 30% of women in core STEM roles. According to WISE analysis, published at the end December 2019, women currently hold just over 24% of these roles. The data showed that the number of women in technology roles is ‘a particular cause for concern with women representing just 16% of IT professionals,’ a figure which WISE says has remained static for the last decade.

Helen Wollaston Chief Executive of WISE commented ‘Having seen the number of women in core STEM roles reach our target of 1 million, we now need to keep up the momentum and aim for a target of 30% of women in STEM which is critical mass for sustainability.’

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