Moreover, when we address the issues that face women, such as domestic violence, we aren’t saying that they don’t happen to men.
The computer giant, IBM, tried to generate discussion about the lack of women in STEM through their latest project #HackAHairDryer, and they did, but not in the way they were hoping.
IBM hoped to ‘blast away the barriers’ for women in the industry by encouraging people to hack their hairdryer, to ultimately prove women’s worth in STEM. Their intentions were good, but their latest project to raise awareness for sexist stereotypes which hold women back in scientific industries relied on sexist stereotypes.
By theming the project around a hairdryer they are lazily falling back on gender stereotypes, and yet again reaffirming the idea that women will only be interested in science if it is based around beauty products. The #HackAHairDryer project echoes the European Commissions attempt to encourage women into science. The ‘Science; it’s a girl thing’ video is 53 seconds sequence of patronising jump cuts between women in high heels, testing make up and male scientists checking the female scientists out, all set to the backdrop of dance music. The video was an attempt to encourage young girls to see science as a job for them and see it as a relatable career choice. They attempted to do so by equating being a female scientist with wanting to work in the cosmetics industry or showing them that science can be ‘girly’.
(If you don’t believe me, you can see it below.)
IBM tried to break down harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry by relying on harmful stereotypes which hold women back in the industry. Instead of highlighting the issues women face, such as being belittled, or not being taken seriously as a STEM employee, they belittled the women they were targeting and emphasised some of the factors which make them less likely to be taken seriously as a STEM employee. The flaw in their plan here is fairly obvious.
You can see that the project was poorly thought out, and although it has generated discussion, it is not at all in their favour. Women have been responding to the failed publicity stunt with understandable distain, and IBM were forced to close the project.
I find myself endlessly frustrated with the projects which are rolled out by companies and organisations such as IBM and the European Commission. Instead of addressing the stereotypes which hold women back in STEM, they play into them and essentially further the problem.
And lastly, why on earth would you want to hack a hairdryer?!
Sir Tim Hunt hit the headlines this week, but not for a scientific breakthrough, but by making incredibly sexist comments regarding women in science. Alongside his accolades for cell duplication, the honorary professor at UCL has a well established reputation as a chauvinist.
He told the World Conference of Science Journalists that he thinks that labs should be segregated by gender and is quoted to say:
These comments sparked outrage, however, unfortunately he is not an anomaly. There is a strong undercurrent of sexism throughout the STEM industries, both overt and covert. This can range from comments like the ones made by Sir Tim Hunt, to subtler forms of sexism which are deeply entrenched in society. For example, despite the massive advances made by the women’s movement, 70% of the world still associate being a scientist with being a man.
Other influential figures have been heard to openly discredit women in science. Michaela Strachen, a BBC presenter who presents Autumnwatch and (rather worryingly) the children’s television programme The Really Wild Show, has publicly said that:
Sir Tim Hunt suggests that ‘girls’ should stay out of the laboratory because they distract men. This concept is unfortunately also well established in many areas of society, including the classroom.
Social Media led activism has highlighted that many schools use dress codes to shame the way girls dress, and many school girls are speaking out about how these sexist school dress codes have effected their education. Reports have shown that girls have been sent home from school for wearing summer clothing during hot weather, and have even been asked to leave final year exams, because their vest tops are ‘distracting male students from their education’.
Comments like the one’s made by Sir Tim Hunt and Michaela Strachen are therefore not uncommon, and ultimately effect the education and the careers of women in science. And though their public notoriety does allow a public conversation to develop, exposure to these sorts of comments can have an effect on the careers young girls think they are capable of.
The public discussion resulting from this event can hopefully draw attention to the institutional sexism within science and raise awareness for the amazing work organisations are doing to support women in science, and increase the representation of women in STEM.
Excellent organisations which help to address these issues that face women in STEM include; STEMettes, Wise, ScienceGrrl, Women in nuclear and WiSET.
In August 2014, LEGO launched a new set of toys, female scientist figures. Though these toys may be small, the impact made is not. They follow this fascinating movement that is currently happening, by organisations such as Let Toys Be Toys, which are addressing issues that occur in gendering of toys for boys and girls.
These toys are a landmark for more than one reason, they are not only a mainstream example of a toy aimed at all genders that feature strong female representation but they also represent women in a non-sexualised form. Most examples of female scientists in general media shows them in an aesthetically pleasing or sexualised form, and you can also see this in a lot of the toys representing women in science, such as the rather famous doll toy shown below. In this depiction of a female scientist, the white coat has been altered and shortened to hug the unobtainable figure of the doll and the stiletto heels are clearly not regulation laboratory footwear and would not pass health and safety policy!
The science toys for girls also don’t seem to reflect typical science areas in a similar way to the science toys marketed towards boys. The science toys for girls often are belittling depictions of ‘science for girls’, where the impression is that girls would only be interested in the scientific topics that revolve around the beauty industry, such as make up or perfume (see examples below). Even the traditional science toys for children are altered to needlessly also market them towards girls, most often changing them to pink alternatives, giving the impression that girls can only fathom how to use a microscope if it is pink.
|If you google ‘gender pay gap’, these are the results you will see.|
The second most searched term surrounding the gender pay gap has the word ‘myth’ in it. But unfortunately, it is not a myth. In fact, the gender pay gap has widened, meaning that women earn 15.7% less than men for full time employment in the UK. Furthermore, the gender pay gap gets wider in areas of employment that are mainly occupied by women, such as part-time employment or the public sector, where the gender pay gap stands at 35%.
But what about science?
Women are incredibly underrepresented in science, with over 80% of employees in science being male. Not only are women less likely to make a career in science, but they are also likely to be effected by the gender pay gap. In SET (Science, Engineering and Technology), the gender pay gap in 2008 was 12.6%. This is lower than some other occupations, but it is still a significant difference that should not be ignored because of this.
Generally in part-time work across the UK, the gender pay gap is incredibly high. But we see a large difference not only between the part-time wage of men and women in science, but a huge difference in the wages of part-time female employees and full-time female employees in science. Women in part-time employment in Science, Engineering and Technology will infect earn 21.8% less than women in SET working full-time.
A lot of the contributing factors that exacerbate the gender pay gap are alive and kicking in science. As well as women earning less for the same job as men, there are other factors that worsen the gender pay gap. For example, women are more likely to work in lower paid jobs than men, women are less likely to continue their career after children, women are more likely to take a career break related to family and women are more likely to work part-time. These factors are related to a lot of social issues that surround gender stereotypes, such as women are assumed to be the primary carer and men are less likely to be expected to stop working after having children, as well as women being subconsciously taught from a young age to consider their future career based on their future family and are less likely to see themselves in highly paid careers and strive to achieve that. These are also seen in science and this can have tremendous effect on their career and wage. For example, women are more likely to have a career break for family reasons and then are left behind, meaning that STEM educated women enter an alternative workforce that does not utilise their skills and usually part-time.
Science is not exempt from the issues that face women in the workforce, in fact not only does it echo these issues but sometimes it worsens them. And, for a community that strives to imagine the future, it is crucial that it becomes aware of its issues with gender and addresses them, to make sure that the future it is imagining is best for all of us.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today
Like most students, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’. I chose engineering mainly because I wanted to keep my career options open and it seemed to tie in quite nicely with my A-levels in maths, design technology, chemistry and sports science.
I knew a degree in engineering would impress future employers and that there was a real shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills in the UK. I read up about engineering and realised how important it is and how it helps better the lives of people all around the world. I knew then that by studying engineering, I could also help to make a difference.
Whilst studying for my degree at City University London, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree I took additional modules in Energy Management and Renewable Energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the worlds future energy demands. When it was time to start writing my dissertation rather than take on the project title I was given (‘’A thermodynamic analysis of the combustion engine’’), I decided to create my own project (‘’The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s’’). It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all I could do my dissertation during paid working hours!
Once complete, I presented my study and its finding to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who saw just how passionate I was; he even included a summary of my project in Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job! It really was that simple and I’ve never looked back since.
I never imagined that my part time job as a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant would flourish into the role of Group Energy Manager, which ultimately made me responsible for all the electricity and gas used across the 1,000 store portfolio, managing the company’s second biggest controllable cost line; A job that makes environmental and commercial sense.
More Recently I joined Debenhams as Energy Manager. I’m responsible for managing the electricity used to light the stores, the gas used to heat them, and the water used for cleaning and hygiene in stores. Across all the stores, depots and offices in the UK, Debenhams spend over £35million per year on energy and water bills. This is one of their biggest costs and has a big impact on the environment. It’s another demanding, but rewarding job where I get to apply my communication, creativity and engineering skills.
How do you think your experiences as a woman in STEM have made you who you are today?
What have the highlights been in your career as a woman in STEM?
What do you feel you gain from being a STEM ambassador?
Have any women influenced you and your career?
What are the main issues you face as a women in STEM?
What advice would you give to female STEM graduates?
What one word would you use to describe yourself?
Hungry ! ( usually for food, but also for knowledge)