Where are they?

                                                   Image by Galbaiti group on flickr         

Why do we still have so few women in science? This was one of the many questions that ran through my mind when I visited an organisation with 40 engineers in the engineering department, out of which only two are women.

Despite the fact that the number of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is increasing, they are still outnumbered by men. There are also fewer women in STEM compared to other fields like education, business, law and journalism.

There are a number of studies that have highlighted reasons why the number of men in STEM is more than that of women. One of these studies, by the America Association of University Women, said that ”social and environmental factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering”.

The study revealed that girls can develop interest in maths and science, if they are encouraged by their teachers and parents.

Julia Parker, a support scientist at Diamond Light Source (DLS) agrees: “When I was in  secondary school I had an amazing chemistry teacher and that was what made me want to do chemistry”. Her job involves working with scientists coming to the DLS to use its high intensity light to study cells and proteins.

A further study by the American Sociological Association suggests that “women are less likely than men to stay in engineering majors and to become engineers because they want to have families and are more insecure about their math abilities, right? Not necessarily.”

The researchers found that women drop out of engineering because of family pressures and often develop a lack of self confidence.

I talked to three women and one man, all working in science, to hear their views on why there are few women in science and measures that could be taken to improve the number of women in science.

They have similar views on why there are so few women in science — they believe many women opt for other professions because of family pressures and some women believe that science is a male-dominated profession.

Steward Scott, an engineer at Diamond Light Source said: “It could be argued that engineering is a male dominated area so it does not attract women into it.”

These scientists believe the media should speak more about engineering and other science courses. Parents, teachers and women that are already in science should also reach out to secondary schools to encourage girls to take on science subjects. Institutions and organizations could also make their policies more family-friendly to attract more women into the field.

Patty Kostkova, Head of the eHealth Research Centre at City University said: “Employers providing a family-friendly schemes is important.”

To listen to the four interviews, click on the links below.

Patty kostkova, Head of the eHealth Research Centre at City University.

Steward Scott, engineer at Diamond Light Source

Julia Parker, a support scientist at Diamond Light Source

Caroll Seron, Professor department of criminology, law and society University of California

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