Scuba Diver Australasia - - Cristina Zenato -

ex­ists be­tween males and fe­males in STEM fields, women are of­ten not pro­por­tion­ally rep­re­sented as lead­ers, paid equally or ad­vance as quickly through the ranks. This topic has been dis­cussed by seem­ingly every­one from the NY Times, Amer­i­can Sci­en­tist and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic to the Huff­in­g­ton Post and Na­ture. So what’s the deal? Is it be­cause women are less ca­pa­ble or pro­duc­tive as sci­en­tists?

Nope (and I am not just say­ing that; it has been well demon­strated), but it does rep­re­sent a dan­ger­ous cul­tural trend, one where we de­value women or put lim­i­ta­tions on their abil­i­ties.


I have to ad­mit I caught my­self day­dream­ing about Emma Watson’s “He for She” speech while re­view­ing some cur­rent statis­tics on­line, all the while think­ing to my­self, “When are men go­ing to start giv­ing women more credit? How could gen­der still be such a big is­sue in this day and age?” Then I stum­bled across a re­cent study by Yale sci­en­tists (Ra­cusin et al 2012 in Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences), which cap­tured clear gen­der bi­ases in favour of male stu­dents within a depart­ment at the Univer­sity. That re­sult in it­self was not so sur­pris­ing. What did catch me off guard is that the gen­der bias was ex­hib­ited by both men and women. Could it be that even women are un­der­valu­ing and un­der­rat­ing our sex? Is it true that we too have been con­di­tioned into think­ing that we can­not per­form on par with men or that we might not be a suit­able in cer­tain roles? I cer­tainly hope this isn’t the case, but sud­denly it’s not that sur­pris­ing that young women are hav­ing reser­va­tions about pur­su­ing sci­en­tific ca­reers. We’re cer­tainly not in­spir­ing a lot of con­fi­dence in them, are we?

Still, this was some­thing that I could work with. This was a way that I per­son­ally could give back as a woman, and I have spent the bet­ter part of the last decade choos­ing not just to in­vest in out­reach and ed­u­ca­tion but in par­tic­u­lar fo­cus­ing on en­cour­ag­ing young women into STEM fields. Luck­ily there are many other men and women out there do­ing the same thing.

One of my per­sonal favourites is Ocean GEMS, a mul­ti­me­dia out­reach ini­tia­tive that hopes to tar­get par­tic­u­larly young girls and steer them to­wards ca­reers in ma­rine sci­ence by en­cour­ag­ing them with real life role mod­els and af­ford­ing them with op­por­tu­ni­ties to help jump-start their ca­reers. Just like it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of teach­ers and ad­vi­sors out there to re­lin­quish their bi­ases and sup­port stu­dents equally along their aca­demic paths, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of sci­en­tists to make them­selves more ac­ces­si­ble to youth and to in­spire and men­tor those that need some ex­tra en­cour­age­ment.


Still, as I have grown older, I have re­alised that it is not just younger girls that need en­cour­age­ment or that need to be sup­ported in sci­ence. Mid­way into my own ca­reer I find my­self sur­rounded by ca­pa­ble women who are ex­press­ing frus­tra­tions or doubts about be­ing able to rec­on­cile their ca­reers as sci­en­tists with their abil­i­ties to be good wives and moth­ers. It has been said that one of the most per­sis­tent prob­lems is that a dis­pro­por­tion­ate frac­tion of qual­i­fied women drop out of sci­ence

Since that sig­nif­i­cant spike, I was dis­ap­pointed to learn that there had only been a three per­cent rise in fe­male em­ploy­ment in STEM fields

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