The UN considers the work of women scientists to be so important that it decided to give them a day: February 11th is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The goal is to give visibility to women’s role in the field of science and serve as an inspiration for aspiring girls. The fact of the matter is that there still are many obstacles to overcome and plenty of room for improvement in recognizing and giving greater visibility to the work done by the mothers, daughters, and granddaughters of yesterday and today.
One of the keys to achieving equality in this area is the promotion of STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) among girls. School-age girls need more female role models in this field — they need to learn their stories and draw on their inspiration, just as they might with princesses in fairy tales but instead coming home shouting “Mom, I want to be a scientist.” The gender gap in the STEM sector is a reality around the world: only 28% of researchers are women and only 17 women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics,Chemistry, or Medicine (starting with Marie Curie in 1903), as opposed to 572 men. However, this gap is being closed through initiatives such as the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, which seeks to reach the target of 40% of the underrepresented sex.
Past, present, and future of women scientists at Repsol
Three of our colleagues at the Repsol Technology Lab — where, at 38%, the percentage of female scientists is close to meeting the Horizon 2020 objective — spoke with us about women’s role in science on the occasion of International Day of Women and Girls in Science. More and more girls are choosing STEM careers, but inequality persists due to the lack of role models such as Margarita Salas or a lack of confidence in their own talent. If we compare the past ten years we see that a lot of progress has been made and that the numbers among both students and professionals are evening out.
Nevertheless, plenty of work remains in order to tear down the barriers. Girls need role models they can look up to and so they can think “making it up there.” For that to happen, the number of women in upper-level positions needs to increase — and that can only occur in a society where women don’t need to choose between their personal life and their professional career.