It’s incontrovertible that there are fewer women than men in fields like science, tech, engineering and maths (collectively known as STEM). Despite evidence that girls do well in such subjects at school, few go on to study them at university and even fewer then get jobs in these fields. By the time you get to the boardroom, there are hardly any women to be seen.
The reasons for this inequality are many, spanning issues such as social pressure on girls and women to pursue “suitable” careers, subtle misogyny in higher education and the workplace, and a lack of support for women who wish to have a family or re-skill when re-entering the workforce after having a family. These are complex problems that we all need to work to understand and address, but there is one key issue that we can focus on quite easily.
The importance of role models
In 2006, psychologist Penelope Lockwood carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models.
“Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”
There are very few women role models in STEM, a problem which becomes clear when you look at the speaker lists for conferences, or the people presenting and featured in TV documentaries, or the pundits chosen to talk about news stories, or the experts and entrepreneurs profiled in magazines and newspapers. It’s difficult to name the women excelling in STEM because they are all but invisible.
An achievable goal
Ada Lovelace Day aims to address this problem by encouraging people to shine a light on the women in STEM that they admire. By talking about women in these fields, we hope to raise not just their profiles, but the profile of every woman. We hope that, through taking part in Ada Lovelace Day and through reading the profiles others have published, everyone will learn about the amazing achievements of our unsung heroines. Many of our most successful women have never been given the credit they deserve, overshadowed by the men that they worked with for no better reason than that it was just “how things were”. And many of the women working in STEM today go unnoticed and unremarked, despite the fact that there is no good reason to ignore their contributions.
As a result of the activity around Ada Lovelace Day, we also hope to make it easier for conference organisers to find women to talk at their events, and for journalists to find women to comment on STEM stories, or to even be the story. We hope that women struggling to understand why their achievements are being downplayed by peers and bosses will take heart from the stories they see, and will fight even harder for the equality they deserve. We hope that mothers and fathers and teachers wil find inspiration to pass on to their children and students, even finding inspiration themselves. And we hope that young girls will see that it’s not just OK to love science, tech, engineering and maths, but that there are real opportunities for them, at school, at university, and at work.
Women have a great future ahead of them in STEM. By taking part in Ada Lovelace Day and telling others about the amazing work done by women, we can all help ensure that future is as bright as it should be.