Each year on February 11, the United Nations marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
It’s a chance to reflect on how the situation has improved for women working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and how much remains to be done. For instance, less than 30% of the world’s researchers in these fields are women._
The Conversation Africa’s Natasha Joseph asked researchers working in fields as varied as physics, technology law, palaeontology and biomathematics to share their lessons and experiences as women in STEM – and what those who want to follow in their footsteps should expect.
Amélie Beaudet, research fellow in palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand:
There is a long-standing tradition of maintaining a purely subjective classification between “male-like” and “female-like” jobs. Unfortunately, science is one of the most prejudiced disciplines in this binary world. Women need to know that science is for everyone, and that not being a man shouldn’t be considered an obstacle to their ambitions and aspirations.
This is particularly critical and relevant given that women’s achievements in science are often discarded from history, a phenomenon known as the “Matilda effect” that sees women scientists being effectively written out of history.
Palaeontology suffers from substantial conventional sex-related bias. Yet, women are part of the discipline’s history and have made major discoveries – from Mary Anning and the Jurassic fossil beds in England to Mary Leakey and sites in East Africa that held evidence of human ancestors. More people, especially women, should know these stories so they realise there’s plenty of space for them in the sciences.