At the conclusion of the on-line discussion on Gender, Science and Technology I’d like to thank very much all those who found time in their busy lives to share experiences and ideas.
While eighteen contributors hardly constitute a representative quantitative sample, especially in the absence of European and Canadian responses, there was valuable qualitative material which will go to assist the Working Group that is to prepare the IFUW input to the CSW deliberations on this theme in 2011.
A brief summary of conclusions to be drawn from your responses is given below. A more detailed report on the discussion has already been sent to the Board and you can access this at http://www.ifuw.org/docs/science-technology-discussion-summary.pdf. You might also be interested in the document that was prepared by Dr Daphne Elliott, which was too long to send as an email message, but has been forwarded to the Board. You can access it at http://www.ifuw.org/docs/science-technology-discussion-delliot.pdf
In brief, while it was encouraging to hear examples of steps being taken by NFAs and their governments to improve the participation and success of girls and women in science and technology, there remains much that’s needed for improvement. Our advocacy needs to be based on multiple reasons why it’s important for women to participate in this area: the majority of respondents saw all the four possible reasons given in Question 1 as valid, even if they didn’t always prioritise them in the same way – a reminder that different circumstances characterize different NFAs and that IFUW policy needs always to be aware of this.
1. Access to education in science and technology:
This is limited by both national and individual poverty. There are still countries where the goal of universal primary education is not being met, and where, although secondary education is available in general, science education is too expensive for the state to provide and/ or too expensive for individuals to access, especially if they live in remote areas. The latter factor also affects access to tertiary studies even in developed countries. Cleverer and cheaper ways of delivering science education need to be devised.
Even where access is possible it can be limited by stereotyped notions about the needs, abilities and potential futures of females. Whether they are social, parental, or internalized by individual girls, these discourage females from taking up the study of science and technology and being ambitious in its pursuit. There’s a need to publicise the successes of women in these areas and for those women who are succeeding to be willing to mentor the next generation.
2. Successful career outcomes for females in science and technology.
The responses reflected a belief that success, whether within the education system or in other professional fields, is difficult because this is a ‘male-dominated area’ in its ethos and work practices. Those statistics that were provided gave weight to that impression. There’s a strong case for women to continue to be treated as an Equity Group in policies and programmes relating to training and advancement in non-traditional areas at least while statistics show such inequitable participation in many areas of the science and technology field. That’s why gender-disaggregated data is essential.
3. The need for systemic change:
I can’t do better than quote Dalma Jacobs, AFGW CIR:
The survey of 1100 female members of the Australian Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers is a reminder that any bid to diversify and expand the workforce in these fields so as to stimulate research and development and the knowledge economy has to be systemic in its design. It has to prioritise reform and innovation with respect to workplace conditions and access to flexibility; workplace cultures and discrimination; and career development and pay equity. . . . A serious strategy to redress the failure to value and sustain the talents and achievement potential of women needs to be central to all efforts to increase the skilled workforce and research capability nationally.
Investment on this front would be easy to justify by the wealth of evidence that we are squandering talent while cheating women of a lifelong economic return on the commitment they make in early life to study and qualifications.