According to Spain’s Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, the presence of women at universities has undergone a remarkable increase over the past few years, with nearly 55% of all enrolments in higher education coming from girls. But, why are just 12% signed up to do a degree in computer science?
Women’s relationship with science has always been rocky, just as it has been with other sectors in which women have had to fight to make a name for themselves, undoubtedly detrimental to scientific excellence and also to countries’ economic development. Despite having made great strides since the days when Concepción Arenal had to dress as a man to access education, it’s still important to ask ourselves what we can do as a society to increase female presence in scientific, technological, engineering and mathematics degrees, also known as STEM degrees.
Whilst in chemistry, medicine and biology, parity is already inherent, the same cannot be said for physics, ICT and engineering. These are precisely the degrees that have become synonymous with the future, leading to jobs that are yet to emerge and an increasing demand for qualified professionals. According to the Ministry of Industry, the demand for professional techies is growing at a rate of 4% per year.
Researcher Julia Borràs from the Spanish Council for Scientific Research’s (CSIC) Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (Robotics and Industrial Computing Institue – IRI), explains that reflecting on the gender gap in science “is complicated and multifaceted”. She believes that “the problem starts much earlier than we might think. Gender stereotypes start to manifest when children are five or six years old, which means that STEM subjects are likely to be more attractive to boys. As such, as children grow up, many girls start to abandon these interests because of peer pressure or because they don’t have any female role models. The percentage of women in STEM degrees might seem low, but it’s even lower at PhD level”.
For this expert, the fact that most STEM teachers are men and that the subjects don’t encourage female participation, also has an impact. Therefore, working creatively to foster initiatives that aim to get girls involved is an important part of the strategy, and something we do at Ironhack with campaigns such as The algorithm is female.
“I’ve written a book for a pre-school robotics workshop in which I present some of the female employees from my robotics institute, something which helps fire up girls’ imagination and plants a seed of curiosity that will hopefully continue to grow over time.” Society, the education system and education at home are key elements in the road to a more egalitarian world.
On 11 February we celebrated International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an occasion which in Spain has been the launch pad for the initiative 11 febrero, which seeks to offer activities that help eliminate gender stereotypes in STEM degrees. It therefore promotes these vocations for women and girls by shedding a light on the work done by female scientists and technologists, with a view to generating role models and analysing what causes the gender gap in science.
As they state on their website, “we’re still seeing a multitude of unconscious biases that cause girls to shy away from STEM degrees”, something which has prompted them to launch a series of talks and workshops, exhibitions, round table discussions, wiki-marathons for opening Wikipedia pages about female scientists and technologists and countless other events.
In line with one of Ironhack’s mottos, tech has no age, Borràs has a message for all young girls interested in science and technology: “I want to tell them that if they’re passionate about the industry, they shouldn’t let anything stand in their way, because in the end it’s all about doing what makes you happy and making a decision with free will. Luckily, people today are sensible enough to create positive working environments where everyone is welcome”. Individuals like her, who were fortunate enough to complete their degree alongside the brilliant mathematician and writer specialised in artificial intelligence and robotics, Carme Torras, help to show that although the road to equality might be rocky, it’s essential to try and become a role model for other women destined to revolutionise the professional scientific scene.
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