Updated: Jan 10
Changing the narrative and smashing stereotypes for a brighter future
(photo credit: Daria Koshkina)
Today we are celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and calling on everyone to smash the stereotypes and barriers that are holding women and girls back from pursuing careers in STEM.
As a woman of STEM, I am incredibly proud and honoured by the significant contributions that women have made, and continue to make, in the field of science. But we still have a ways to go.
There is a science gender gap
Though women have come a long way, the STEM fields continue to be shaped by gender biases that exclude women and girls from both entering and excelling. Here are the facts, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics:
Only 28% of the world’s researchers are women
Global female enrolment in STEM fields remains very low (less than 8%)
Women in STEM fields publish less and often receive less pay
Only 17 women have won a Nobel prize in physics, chemistry or medicine compared to 572 men
Despite significant improvements in recent decades, women still continue to struggle with unequal access to education, employment opportunities, and leadership roles which has stalled our progress by preventing countless bright female minds from careers in STEM.
Changing the narrative
Today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let's change this narrative and celebrate all the women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back.
From life-saving medical breakthroughs to technological advancements that have shaped our everyday life, our history is marked by the great feats of scientific progress and innovation made by women.
Since there are far too many to share on this blog, I’ve highlighted a few that you may not have heard of but definitely need to know about:
British chemist and DNA researcher, Rosalind Franklin knew she wanted to be a scientist since she was 15 years old. Her research data was the first to demonstrate the basic dimension of DNA strands and revealed the molecule was two matching parts that ran in opposite directions. Her data was used by James Watson and Francis Crick and instrumental in helping them discover the double helix model of DNA. Many people in the scientific community argue that Franklin should have been awarded a Nobel prize along Watson and Crick who won it in 1962. (photo credit: Getty Images)
Jane Cooke Wright
Jane Cooke Wright was a trailblazing physician and cancer researcher and one of the first African American graduates from Harvard Medical School. Born in NYC in 1919, She is credited for her work developing chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients and was appointed head of Cancer Research Foundation at the Harlem Hospital when she was only 33. She was also the first woman to be elected president of the New York Cancer Society. She helped pave the way for both women and African Americans in the fields of medicine and research. (photo credit: National Library Medicine)
Katharine Johnson is a US mathematician who calculated and analyzed flight paths, trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths during her more than three decades with the US space program. She was the first African-American woman to attend her graduate school and was one of the few women to work on the NASA space program. She faced discrimination because of her race and gender but persevered because she knew she belonged on the team. More recently she was portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures (2016) which told the untold story of the black women mathematicians that made travel to the moon possible. (photo credit: Vanity Fair)
Sau Lan Wu
Is a Chinese American particle physicist whose work at CERN contributed to the discovery of the Higgs boson. Her work also led her to discover the gluon – particles that mediate the strong force holding protons and neutrons together. Originally thinking that she would pursue arts, she was inspired to study physics after reading a biography of Marie Curie. She would eventually attend graduate school at Harvard University where, as the only woman in her cohort, she would often encounter discrimination and was barred from entering the male dormitories to join study groups that met there. Since then, she has laboured to create acceptance and space for women everywhere in this field. (photo credit: Vassar College)
Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier
Doudna and Charpentier are one of the most culturally significant scientists of our time. Together, they developed the CRISPR technique, the highly precise gene editing method that has swept through laboratories globally and revolutionized genetic and cancer research. They have made many fundamental contributions in biochemistry and genetics and in 2020 were both awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This was the first science Nobel ever to be won by two women. (photo credit: Getty Images)
When she was 16, this South African native won the grand prize at the Google Science Fair for inventing superabsorbent polymers (SAPs), which can hold water hundreds of times their own weight to retain water and prevent crops from drying up combatting droughts and increase food security in her region. She has since been named one of TIME magazine’s 30 most influential teens and one of Glamour magazine’s College Women of the Year. Nirghin has also been invited to address the United Nations multiple times, including on International Women’s Day in 2019 where she spoke about the importance of encouraging young girls to pursue fields in STEM. (photo credit: Alex Kekauoha)
It’s never too early for STEM
Here at NII, we believe it’s never too early (or too late!) to introduce your kids to science. That's why we created NII Explore, a program dedicated to delivering enhanced educational opportunities for school-aged children to learn, experiment, discover and create. NII Explore’s educational programming offers a range of interactive learning styles that connects students to the best teaching and knowledge available.
We need to teach students, regardless of gender, to embrace science and inspire them to be curious about the world around them. Unlock their potential by encouraging them to ask questions. Because who knows—they could be responsible for the next biggest discovery of our time.
Written by Susie Ho, former Senior Advisor at the Nuclear Innovation Institute.