Last Monday was the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. We would like to take advantage of the occasion to talk about women’s education and workforce, especially in the academic field and in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects. We will do that by suggesting several interesting links concerning these topics.
It has to be said that beyond the statistical studies and reports of the leading consultancy firms, the increase of female students in the engineering faculty in which we work has been noticeable. More and more female students are enrolled in the courses we teach. In some areas (such as engineering and management for health), more female students are enrolled than male students.
The situation of women education and the women workforce
A recent article that appeared in the Economist pointed out that the situation of young girls worldwide is improving in terms of education. More and more young women can study and enter the labour market, while at the same time, fewer young women are becoming mothers or deciding not to work. The risk is that the pandemic caused by Covid-19 will bring this situation to a regression.
The economic crisis that followed the pandemic led to an increase in the number of dismissals worldwide and unfortunately most of the people who lost their jobs are women (in Italy, it has been estimated that 98% of the newly unemployed are women). In general, we have to say that if the future scenario for schoolgirls and young women is rosy, the same cannot be said for their aunts: even before the pandemic, in fact, the situation regarding the gender gap in recruitment and occupation of jobs with greater responsibilities (and consequently higher salaries) was still far from being resolved, especially if you are not only a woman but also belong to an ethnic minority.
But how is the situation in the academic world?
The situation in academia mirrors the global situation in the world of work: the higher up the academic ladder, the wider the gender gap. In fact, even if women academics held 41.3% of academic positions across the 28 countries of the European Union in 2016, they only accounted for 23.7% of Grade A positions (the single highest grade/post at which research is normally conducted within the institutional or corporate system), 40.5% of Grade B positions (all researchers working in positions which are not as senior as the top position (A) but definitely more senior than the newly qualified PhD holders (C)), and 46.4% of Grade C positions (the first grade/post into which a newly qualified PhD graduate would normally be recruited within the institutional or corporate system). However, there is room for hope. The number of women working in academia is increasing. If at the moment, there are still few women in academic positions, tomorrow there will be more and more simply because there will be more women working in this field.
It must be said that both the European Union and the UN have gender equality on their agendas and among their sustainable development goals. In particular, the European Commission created, more than 10 years ago, a specific activity on women in science. Every 3 years, a relation is published explaining all the improvement achieved in this sector.The increasing focus on the gender gap and on encouraging women in STEM subjects has paid off. Also, women’s presence in core STEM professions has almost doubled in the last 10 years.
The increase in the presence of women in these sectors also causes a virtuous circle. The increasing presence of women leads to a limitation of the main unconscious biases in environments with a substantial gender disparity. Furthermore, the presence of more women leads to an increase in projects, which encourages other women’s entry into the workplace. Moreover, a women who support other women are more successful.
As evidence of the ever-growing presence of women in the STEM sectors (academic and non-academic), we indicate two websites on which you can find other exciting ideas (e.g., social profiles, podcasts, youtube channels and so on) on the topic: