I have recently watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory where the guys have to come up with a plan to encourage women in science, as part of an initiative at the University where they work, this got me thinking…
The Big Bang Theory is in my opinion a fantastic comedy series (probably one of the best currently on) which revolutionised the world of the geeks, the nerds and female scientists, making them the new cool kids on the block rather than the underdog. It is flawed I agree (it is after all produced by Chuck Lorre, producer of Two and Half Men), but it has nonetheless come a long way to almost even out the men/women scientist ratio on the show, promoting supporting characters to starring roles such as: Leslie Winkle a physicist played by Sara Gilbert, Bernadette Rostenkowski a microbiologist played by Melissa Rauch and Amy Farrah Fowler a neuroscientist played by Mayim Bialik who actually holds a PhD in Neuroscience in real life.
Interestingly in this episode Leonard asks for Sheldon’s help to come up with an idea to boost women’s interest in science, to which the latter suggests that the problem should be faced from early age at high school level rather than university level.
(SPOILER ALERT – clips from Season 6 Episode 18)
Once at the classroom in front of the young girls the three men realise that their efforts aren’t working and that perhaps what is needed is an approach from other female scientists who will work as role models to these young women.
To my surprised this subject came up again in the same week, by the news of the ‘gobsmacking’ reaction and comments to the fact that the brains behind the Facebook page I Fucking Love Science is in fact that of a woman. Well slap my ass and call me Sally! What’s the hell is so shocking about that?
Here is a what’s going on in the world of sciences:
Studies show that there is a high level of girls taking on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects at GCSE levels and actually succeeding in getting more A grades then the boys, but as soon as we get to ‘A’ level the number of girls taking STEM drops significantly.
Recent statistics made available by WISE Campaign, show that:
‘Participation of Women in Industry
The STEM industries employing the lowest proportion of women are Construction (11%) and Mining and Quarrying (13%).
Fewer than one in ten (9.8%) of STEM managers are female.
STEM Business Owners
Just over one in ten (11%) of STEM business owners are women, compared to one in three (33%) who are owners of non-STEM businesses.
Source: Labour Force Survey, March 2011-March 2012.
Women on Boards of Top Companies
Two STEM companies were in the top five ranked FTSE 100 companies with the highest percentages of women on their Boards in 2012.
Of FTSE 100 companies in STEM sectors, 13% of Board Directors are female compared to 17% of Board Directors of companies in other sectors.
All those outside STEM sectors have at least one woman on their Board, but nearly one in five of STEM companies in the FTSE 100 have no women on their Board.
Source: The Female FTSE board report 2012, Cranfield University School of Management.’
So why the sudden drop?
Some say the media is still to blame, by portraying the science geek as an unattractive and anti-social person most often male.
But then why do men pursue this career regardless of stereotypes?
As Chantal Bowman-Boyles explains in How many female science and technology role models can you name? post on wire.co.uk, discrimination plays a big part in it with many men referring to women’s abilities in the STEM fields as less apt.
And then there is the old but still very present issue of salary inequality:
There was a publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently that showed that when the same application for a job as a laboratory manager was sent out for response with a man’s name and with a woman’s name, the man got the offer with a higher salary, and the [application with the] female name was ranked lower.
Trying to establish a more broad panorama and to see if these were a one-sided argumentative opinions, I asked a few question to Gisela Rocha a young microbiologist specialised in Cancer Research, who has a more positive and optimistic attitude. Her approach may well be different but she does still, nevertheless, find flaws in the funding and acknowledgement of female scientists.
SH: When did you decide to become a scientist?
GR: I thought of becoming a scientist (without even knowing the true meaning of science) when I was 13/14 years old. I used to watch a show called The Yellow Van which showed the wonderfulness of the human body and its mechanisms. That year I received a microscope for Christmas and that became a passion of mine.
SH: How did you choose your field of study?
GR: I chose microbiology/health because the origin and cure of diseases has always sparked great curiosity in me, cancer in particular.
SH: Do you feel that science is still a man dominated industry?
GR: I wouldn’t say that science is a man’s world, but I do feel that the Nobel Prizes are largely awarded to men and that the female scientists’ work isn’t acknowledge and recognized as it deserves to be. It is none the less changing every day and women are becoming more and more the greatest strength in the field. We will hopefully be looking at equal opportunities for both genders in the near future.
With all the commotion created by thousands of followers reacting to Elise Andrew’s gender, some very positive aspects arose from it such as the making of a new role model. In an era of technology and social media this is probably what young women need: more well broadcasted female scientist role models.
Elise was on CBS News today with Professor Michio Kaku and here is what he had to say about the subject:
We are all born scientists. We are born wondering why there are sunshines and where we come from. Until we hit junior high school … then all the social pressure kicks in and women scientists drop like flies.So we need role models like her (Elise Andrew), we need people who shine out and say: ‘No, it is possible to be a woman, be successful and passionate about science!’