Women in STEM research - why are there so few of us?

March 7, 2017

In today's society, we're better than ever at smashing through barriers and achieving equality, especially in education. Record numbers of women worldwide are accessing education, from primary school to secondary and through to tertiary. In fact, in Australia we're finding that in the age bracket of 20-24, women are outnumbering men in achieving high school (or equivalent) qualifications - 90.1% women compared to 86.3% of men as of 2015 (https://goo.gl/yJ5ixl0). This continues through tertiary education, with 129,045 female graduates in 2015, compared to 86,337 male graduates (https://goo.gl/kzqobr). This is indeed a huge step forward from the days when women weren't allowed to vote, own property or get an education.

 

However, something interesting happens to the statistics following graduation from university...

 

 

... What is going on!?
 

The answer isn't easy to tease out, but can be boiled down to a couple of things;

  • BIAS REGARDING ROLES - women are still by and large expected to do the majority of childcare and domestic labour, and this extends to the workplace, where social cohesion and administrative tasks relevant to labs or groups are relegated almost automatically to women. 

  • BIAS REGARDING SKILLS

  • LACK OF SUPPORT - the lack of female mentors, or visible role models, or even immediate peers to discuss/contextualise inequitable experiences with.

As a 3rd year PhD candidate, me and my peers are in the 'danger zone'. We're at the cusp of the drop-off, looking down the gauntlet of everything telling us to leave STEM. That's why I decided to create this society - to provide a place for the 200+ female engineering post-graduate students to get to know each other, share stories and strategies, as well as move forward together and continue upward through the many layers of glass ceilings. 

 

What's next?

POST-GRADUATE FEMALE-IDENTIFYING RESEARCHERS - join our mailing list, our Facebook group and/or our LinkedIn group to connect with the women around you. We'll also be posting information about events, meetings and also news from around the world about women in STEM. 

 

EARLY CAREER FEMALE-IDENTIFYING RESEARCHERS - in addition to joining our networks, you can increase your advocacy within your sphere. Is there a young female researcher you could mentor? Are there any stories or advice you can share?

 

WOMEN IN ACADEMIA AND INDUSTRY - congratulations on overcoming so many barriers! We'd love to hear from you about your journey and any advice you have for us navigating our own. 

 

I'll end this post with a quote from maybe the most famous woman in STEM, Marie Curie.

 

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” 

 

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