Lessons Learned in Gender Equality in STEMM

For those invested in gender equality, 2017 was considered a year of progress. Topics that were once on the back burner – such as early childhood gender stereotypes, women leadership and gender-based violence – all had their time in the spotlight. Although a year of continued repression and gender restrictions in many regards, 2017 was also a time of societal upheaval and a reevaluation of archaic gender norms. In particular, women spoke out against the severe lack of female advocacy and representation within the workforce. From the STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) fields to academia, female labour and knowledge continue to be used yet not fully recognized.

This chorus against gender inequality was notably loud at the 2017 STEMM Equality Congress in Berlin. Attracting 220 delegates from around the world, the Congress focused on promoting the inclusion of women and women-centred support systems in work environments such as laboratories, universities and other male-dominated spaces. Moving into 2018, the Congress is eager to continue challenging the status quo. This upcoming October, the Congress is meeting in Amsterdam to address equality, diversity and inclusion in the STEMM fields and once again provide a safe space for women demanding change.

Last November, the former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama spoke a women’s summit in Canada. With regards to promoting gender education and equality, Obama stated: “One person can’t make the change. It happens from the bottom up, not the top down. That’s a good thing. It means no one person can’t break all this either.”

This message resonated deeply at the STEMM Equality Congress. Professor Cobie Rudd from Edith Cowan University in Australia strongly believes in making the change where it counts. As part of the university’s gender initiative, Professor Rudd is focused on addressing childhood gender stereotypes at as early an age as possible. Research has shown that gender stereotypes are defined between the ages of five and seven, thus indicating the need to promote gender parity in primary education.

Dr Margaret Bailey from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the United States shares a similar sentiment. With a US$3.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr Bailey is encouraging women to speak up and work together to address harmful academic cultures and institutional structures within the STEMM fields.

Dr Shirley Malcom, director of human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is also pushing for change in STEMM from the bottom up. According to Dr Malcolm: “Science has been made by men, for men,” and with women making up a significant portion of STEMM students and employees, new approaches must be developed to increase female representation. Loud voices force action

However, where organizations are involved, change is often slow moving. Many companies wish to avoid responsibility and consider gender-based change a long and arduous task. But with Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, women finally have the space to address the widespread abuse and gender-based violence they experience daily. Finally, organizations can no longer hide behind the silence and are being forced to act.

Dr Malcolm is diving headfirst into this challenge. Through the development of the Sea Change Program, Dr Malcolm is aiming to put systematic effort into initiating structural changes in the STEMM fields. In a similar vein, CEO of the Equality Challenge Unit David Ruebain has created the Athena SWAN Charter. This charter a step-by-step program that awards bronze, silver and gold levels for higher education institutions willing to address gender inequality. So far, 143 universities spanning from the UK to Ireland to Australia are involved in the charter and the numbers are growing – hopefully an indication of positive changes to come.

As 2017 came to a close, talks on gender inequality were only just beginning. The momentum from that year has carried strongly into 2018 with more and more individuals and organizations coming out in favour of creating inclusive and gender-aware workspaces.

Moving forward, members of the Congress wish to work in harmony with men in order to reach a wider audience and initiate more change. Additionally, there is a strong need for further collaboration between industry and academia.

As activist and journalist Gloria Steinem states: “We need to build the society that we want to see by engaging in the kind of actions the reflect that society.” For the 2018 STEMM Gender Congress in Amsterdam, speakers and attendees are hoping to make this lofty goal a reality. With influential leaders once again convening under the same roof for two full days of speeches and presentations, the 2018 Congress aims to continue making clear and assertive steps towards gender equality and a better future.

Source: Equal Times