Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) are still vastly underrepresented in the UK in both study and work, with no significant improvements seen. The Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign stated:
“There was no significant change in the number of women graduating from UK universities with a core STEM degree in 2016 compared to the year before. Women made up 25% of the total, the same as last year and the year before.”
This number then drops further when looking at the workforce, when WISE Campaign found:
Focusing on academia, the story is the same. Whilst numbers of female STEM graduates and PhD students may paint a promising picture, we still see the numbers drop drastically when looking at senior and professor levels.
Now enough with statistics. One of the ways that we can change this, to become equal, is to celebrate the 22%, to celebrate the women already in STEM. This not only encourages those that have not yet embarked on a career, giving them role models, showing that they too can be a woman in STEM, but also gives support to those who have already started.
As a woman in STEM, and an academic in an engineering based department, I have often found myself feeling rather isolated. Meeting other women around the university through training schemes like Springboard (something I would implore any woman to do), made me realise that I am not alone. Looking at these amazing and successful women caused a shift in my mindset. I stopped viewing it as an ever loosing battle and became determined to make it as an academic, to be part of this group of women, to create change. Academia is what I want to do and leaving it is helping nobody.
Raising awareness and increasing the profile of women in STEM is key whilst simultaneously changing the idea of what people think a scientist looks like. Last year at the University of Southampton, a group known as WiSET, Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, in which I am now the co chair of, worked on a project to do just this. What later became known as the “selfie project”, the group decided that more visual representation of women was needed around campus.
With an opening ceremony on Ada Lovelace Day 2016, a portrait of Ishbel Campbell, a pioneering chemist at the university and inspiration for women in science, was unveiled. Instead of a traditional oil painting, this portrait was made up of hundreds of “selfie” photos taken by the women that teach and do research across the university, creating a mosaic of Ishbel herself.
Sitting in the heart of the main library on campus, this picture has pride of place. It is a true celebration of women across all faculties of the University of Southampton. It is a perfect example of how something so simple can have such a large impact.
I really hope that universities and companies across the UK, and the world, will celebrate and raise the profile of women in their institutions as well.
For more information on WiSET or the unveiling, please click here.