How closing the gender gap in science can lead to a more prosperous future for all

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The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was recently marked. The United Nations General Assembly established 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science back in 2015, in order to ensure complete and equal access to science for women and girls across the globe.

‘’We should definitely have more women in space, and more women on Earth in science, technology, and engineering. But the most important thing is for girls and women to understand that no job is out of reach. Live your dreams. Go by your heart. Believe in yourselves. Yes, of course, girls and women can go to Space’’ said the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

According to OECD, only around 40% of researchers are women on average across all OECD member countries. At the same time, women account for only 15% of scientific authors in engineering, physics & astronomy. Closing the gender gap in science remains one of the most important challenges we are faced with today.

There were almost 6.6 million female scientists and engineers in the EU, 254 500 more than in 2019, accounting for 41% of total employment in science and engineering, according to Eurostat. The proportion of female scientists and engineers among the EU Member States varied greatly, ranging from 52% in Lithuania, Portugal, and Denmark to 30% in Finland and 31% in Hungary.

Both science and gender equality are critical for achieving internationally accepted development goals, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Women and girls, on the other hand, continue to be excluded from full participation in science and face significant obstacles on their journey to becoming completely represented in this field.

‘’With 41% of Europe’s scientists being women, the number of inspiring role models is increasing. Despite this, women account for only one-quarter of top academic positions, and disparities between study fields remain. Women make up less than a quarter of ICT doctoral graduates and even less in engineering,’’ said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, while delivering a keynote speech at the “International Day of Women & Girls in Science 2022”.

Gabriel stressed in her speech that one of her top priorities is to ensure that the EU steps up its efforts to support women scientists and innovators. To achieve that, more effort will be put in on three different fronts, she explained. First of all, more support to foster the next generation of women innovators will be offered.

‘’Over the past two years, the number of women-led start-ups receiving EIC funding has grown from 8% to 29%. My goal is 40%, and I am confident we can reach it this year. The record number of applications to the new WomentechEU call that I launched proves that.’’ Gabriel stated.

More girls and women in STEM, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality, would boost the EU’s GDP by 610 billion euros by 2050. According to Gabriel, the EU needs to inspire and empower more girls to pursue these educational and professional paths. 

‘’Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe are excellent opportunities to support innovative projects such as Schools as Living Labs and STEAM IT, which encourage girls to pursue studies in technology and helps teachers to incorporate real-world STEM problems into their lessons,’’ Gabriel continued.

Finally, institutional change is something that is also considered a critical step towards a more inclusive and gender-equal science. Gabriel stated that public bodies, research organisations, and higher education institutions will be asked to have a Gender Equality Plan in order to be able to apply for funding as part of the Horizon Europe programme research and innovation.

Women can provide unique insights to science and research, which is why their equal representation in this field should be considered an urgent issue that requires immediate action. As our rapidly evolving world continues to grow and face new challenges, we must ensure women and girls have a real opportunity to participate in science and with their skills contribute to a better and safer future for all of us. (photo credit: Bermix Studio/Unsplash)