International Day of Women and Girls in Science

female clinical students talking to an instructor

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science takes place on the 11th of February and brings awareness and celebration to recognise the incredible contribution and achievement women have had in STEM subjects. STEM subjects include biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, maths, statistics, economics, finance, computer science, engineering etc. While there may be an increase in women in subjects such as psychology, it is evident that far fewer women tend to choose a career path in subjects such as computer science or engineering, seeing it as a ‘male’ field.

The event started in 2016, as the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2015 commemorating the 11th of February to bring awareness to the inequality women face in STEM subjects. Each year a theme or topic is decided as a focus point for discussion and is implemented by UNESCO in partnership with UN Women which works with national governments, intergovernmental organisations, civil society partners, universities and corporations. There has been a lot of progress in recent years in minimising the gender gap and improving equality, however, there is still a lot of gender bias (both conscious and unconscious), which affects the way young women think and feel about pursuing science. The central aim of this day is to promote achievement, celebrate success and show appreciation and acknowledgement to hopefully change the attitude and behaviour towards women for the better.

Many young women may feel discouraged or unable to pursue a career in science due to social norms or biases, which is made evident by a significant difference in the proportion of women compared to men in STEM. You can see a breakdown of key statistics for women in STEM in UK University courses and across the UK workforce. Despite there being no evidence for women being less able than men in the pursuit of science, due to the history of it being a male-dominated field, fewer women see it as a viable career path. Girls may tend to think they are simply ‘bad at maths’ or have no interest in physics or engineering as they associate it with being a male profession unconsciously, which is a difficult bias to remove and restricts the options many girls may have chosen otherwise. In addition to this, women are typically given smaller research grants and tend to have shorter and less well-paid careers, which is another incentive for young girls not to pursue science. It is because of this that it is incredibly important to recognise the impact and achievements women have had in STEM and inspire new generations to seriously consider this as their profession. Women only make up 33.3% of researchers, and further only 12% of members of national science academies, which makes apparent the noticeable difference of proportion between men and women. 

The University of Reading also promotes and aims to help and inspire women in science, which you can read about in the University alumni magazine. This includes giving women the opportunity to become a role model to young girls in a male-dominated field and giving some information about ground-breaking research from alumni. It is with a consistent and forceful change of behaviour and attitude that we can bring about an increase of women in this area. Every voice matters and serves as encouragement and motivation for future generations. Each achievement proves how noteworthy and significant women’s contributions are, and will with our persistence help minimise and hopefully remove the gender bias and unequal pay over time. 

There are also plenty of examples of influential and incredible women in STEM here in Reading, and I will list a few here: 

  1. Maitreyee Wairagkar 

As seen in the University alumni article, Maitreyee Wairagkar is a University of Reading graduate. She is a postdoctoral researcher studying Neuroengineering and Brain Computer Interface (BCI). She was the runner-up in the Scientific Achievement category in the Nature ‘Inspiring Women in Science’ Awards 2022 and winner of the 2023 India UK Achievers Honours in the category of Science and Innovation. More information on her research can be found in the alumni magazine as mentioned above.

  1. Julie Lovegrove 

Professor Julie Lovegrove is the Deputy Director of the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research (ICMR) and President of the Nutrition Society, as well as a member of several government advisory committees. You can find out more about her amazing accomplishments. 

  1. Hannah Cloke OBE 

Professor Hannah Cloke is a Professor of Hydrology and focuses on modelling environmental processes and forecasting natural hazards. She advises the UK government on flood responses as well as preparing for both national and international flooding incidents. She received an OBE after being named on the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services. Further information about her and the techniques she develops can be found. 

  1. Rosa Freedman  

Professor Rosa Freedman of Law Conflict and Global Development is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Civil Society Advisory Board on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. She is also a Specialist Advisor to the International Development Select Committee and a member of the FCO Steering Committee on women, peace and security. More about her research can be read online.

Finally, I’m sure plenty of you studying STEM subjects have many astounding professors who are women who are available to support and help you throughout your studies, as well as inspire you, during your time here at Reading. 

For some in-detail examples of incredible women in STEM check out these articles: Women in STEM Who Changed the World and 10 Amazing Women in Science History You Really Should Know About. Some of these include Rosalind Franklin (best known for her research on understanding the molecular structure of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite), Marie Curie (discovery of radium and polonium and contribution to research on cancer) and Ada Lovelace (considered the first computer programmer). It is clear that by making STEM subjects more accessible and viable options to women, we are allowing for more brilliant discoveries and innovations, as well as a step in the right direction to erase gender discrimination. 

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is incredibly important to share the appreciation, celebrate and bring awareness to women in STEM. The aim is to inspire a new generation of girls to pursue a career in science and remove the gender gap and discrimination, as well as the association of it being a male-dominated field. With a change in behaviour and attitude, and a higher proportion of women in science, new and inspiring role models will pave the way for young women to make new incredible discoveries.

Visit the UN website on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science where you can also find an in-detail outcome document for each of the previous years’ topics and themes, and find out how to get involved.

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