Women now account for 52.5% of the total workforce,Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Despite this increase, gender equality in the workplace is still far from a reality.
In traditionally male-dominated fields, such as STEM (for science, technology, engineering and mathematics), only two of every ten positions are occupied by women.
The effect of this under representation of women in STEM occupations, especially in leadership roles is explored in a study published in the open access journal Frontiers in Psychology. A team of researchers led by the director of the GenTIC (Gender and ICT) research group at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Milagros Sáinz, have demonstrated the impact of female role models in influencing girls’ preferences for studying STEM subjects.
The researchers evaluated the effectiveness of an intervention implemented in sixteen schools in various cities around Spain, involving the participation of 304 girls aged between twelve and sixteen.
The intervention formed part of a programme developed by the Inspiring Girls Foundation to promote scientific and technological vocations for girls. This programme involves recruiting successful women working in STEM fields as volunteers to go into schools to talk to the children about their careers. The hope is that this contact with female role models will serve to prevent the perpetuation of gender stereotyping in relation to STEM subject competency and encourage girls to opt to study on university programmes in these fields.
Milagros Sáinz said:
“From a very early age, around the age of six, girls are conditioned to think that they are not as good at maths as their male counterparts. This programme, however, focuses on girls in secondary education aged between twelve and seventeen, as this represents a crucial time during which they have to make choices about which academic path to follow.
“We observed how effective the sessions were in neutralizing the negative effects of gender stereotypes, which advocate that girls have less of an affinity for mathematics, in relation to their predisposition to choose to study STEM subjects.
“The sessions with the role models also showed the girls a reality that was contrary to established gender stereotypes regarding the kind of people that supposedly work in these sectors and the requirements needed to enter them.”
There have been many influential women working in mathematics. engineering and science but we just don’t read or hear about them very often – another subject sadly omitted from many history books.
You can read about some of them here in this excellent talk by Dr Nina Baker: Women Engineers – From Airships to the Space Race