The UK and Canada lead the world in attitudes towards equality in leadership in science
COVID-19 has demonstrated the critical role of women scientists in the fight against the pandemic, but participation, pay and airtime has not kept pace with attitudes
A major study measuring the extent to which society is comfortable with women in leadership positions, as compared to men, reveals high levels of acceptance of women in science.
The Reykjavik Index, which measures perceptions towards suitability to lead across twenty-three sectors, finds that two scientific sectors, Natural Sciences and Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, have some of the highest average Index scores at the G7 level (81 and 80 out of 100 respectively, with any score less than a 100 showing an indication of prejudice against women).
But while public perceptions of equality in leadership in these sectors are encouraging, it is not translating into participation and inclusion of women in the highest positions in these sectors. Research from UNESCO shows that less than 30% of the world’s scientific researchers are women.
As the scientific response to COVID-19 shapes the impact of the pandemic, there has been a spotlight on women behind the vaccine: Prof Sarah Gilbert, the woman who designed the Oxford vaccine, Özlem Türeci, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of BioNTech and World Health Organisation’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan.
In the UK, 17 of the approximately 55 members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) are women, but in Italy, where COVID-19 had an early and devastating impact, leading female scientists demanded that they be included in the national response.
Initially, there were no women on Italy’s 20-member technical scientific committee Comitato Tecnico Scientifico (CTS) – a group of experts advising the government during the coronavirus outbreak. However, after public criticism, six women have joined the committee. In the US, only two women are currently on The White House Coronavirus Task Force of 27 people.
Female voices have been remarkably absent in news reporting of the pandemic, according to research from the International Women’s Media Foundation, with a substantial bias towards men’s perspectives in both newsgathering and news coverage of the pandemic, spanning across all regions.
Within scientific expert commentary in global news coverage men were quoted between 2.9 (UK) and 5.1 (India) times more frequently than women in COVID-19/coronavirus stories in the six analysed countries. 60% of medical doctors quoted were men, in comparison to 21% women, and in academia, 75% were men, with 22% of women quoted.
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4 Organisations Supporting Women in Science
A number of organisations have been set up to support women in science and to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in the sector. And thanks to their efforts, more than 1 million women are now working in STEM in the UK.
Stemettes is an award-winning social enterprise working across the UK & Ireland and beyond to inspire and support young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers (known collectively as STEM).
The organisation runs intersectional programmes, impactful events and inspirational content platforms. Click here to see Stemettes’ forthcoming events.
STEM Learning is the largest provider of STEM education and careers support to schools, colleges and community groups across the UK. Working in collaboration with the UK Government, employers, organisations and educational establishments, STEM Learning deliver positive STEM interactions for teachers and young people. Find out more about STEM Learning here.
In2scienceUK empowers young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their potential through life-changing opportunities that give them insights into STEM careers and research and boosts their skills and confidence. Read more about In2scienceUK here.
WISE enables and energises people in business, industry and education to increase the participation, contribution and success of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
These are just four of the organisations that are working to support women in science. To read about more, or if you are looking for support, take a look at this list of Women in STEM networks compiled by WISE.