In October last year I was mentioned on the BBC’s #100Women project, which was a list of inspirational women from 2015. It doesn’t need to be said that I was incredibly pleased to be mentioned on the list, not only to be recognised for my work, but because I was surrounded by 99 amazing women. Ten scientists featured in the BBC’s #100Women list, and this made me want to reflect back on the last year and how women in science faired in 2015.
During 2015, there were a few big events that drew attention to the discrimination women face in STEM industries. Unfortunately, these events were negative and the discussion regarding women in science wasn’t generated by people listening to women, but attention was drawn to the topic because of some obvious and horrendous examples of sexism towards scientists.
In June of last year, a large social media campaign helped to direct attention to the issues women face in science, when scientists responded to sexist comments from a senior scientist. Sir Tim Hunt resigned from his post at University College London after he made comments regarding women in the laboratory in front of a group of journalist. He referred to them as ‘distracting’ and was quoted as saying:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls, you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry!”
In response to this thousands of scientists took to social media to counteract his argument, tweeting pictures of themselves ‘being distracting’ with the perfect amount of satire and passive aggression. Scientists donned their work attire (including Hazmat Suits) to illustrate exactly how ‘distracting’ women are in the lab.
Later in the year, an all-female group of Russian astronauts were asked how they were going to cope in space without men or make-up.
During a press conference, six outstanding scientists were belittled in front of television cameras, and their qualifications were forgotten. When they sat on a panel regarding Russia’s preparation for their space mission to the moon with an all-female crew, instead of the press asking the scientist panel relevant questions about their journey ahead, they were asked trivial questions about their personal appearances.
These questions (and their fantastic sarcastic responses) helped to draw attention to the issues women have in STEM, but yet again, the discussion is not directed this way because people are listening to what women have to say.
Last year’s hat-trick of sexism in STEM finished with a flourish when IBM hosted an awful PR campaign to help encourage women into science, by asking them to ‘Hack a Hairdryer’. The tech company made a crucial mistake in their efforts to draw attention to the discrimination women face in the industry, by making their master plan to generate discourse regarding sexism in science by being sexist towards women in science.
All of these events over the last year have undoubtedly helped to draw attention to the overt examples of sexism women battle in their STEM careers. But they haven’t helped to illustrate the insidious effects that the more covert forms of sexism can have on the careers of women in science. Hopefully, this year the discussion regarding sexism in STEM industries will be directed by women discussing the problems they are facing, rather than incidents of horrendous sexism.
Take a look at the BBC’s 100 Women project here.