Women, STEM and the F-Word: are you a feminist?


Credit: Darapti via Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Darapti via Wikimedia Commons

Attending the EQUATE Scotland event about Women in STEM and Feminism on 4th November was the perfect way to end a work week in my notoriously male-dominated STEM field . It was a fun and informative evening full of ideas and concerns about women’s (and men’s) views on feminism and women’s position in STEM. The event took place in the beautiful Playfair library, at the Old College –  arguably ironic to talk about gender equality and feminism in a room full of famous male busts, as Talat Yaqoob (director of Equate Scotland) jested.

Over the course of the evening, we heard several first-hand stories of sexism unfold. Lorna Slater (chartered electro-mechanical engineer) described her own  experience of sexism on a training course, where with her being the only female in the room, the instructor ‘attacked’ all women by making inappropriate sexist jokes about how women only spend money, and eat chocolate on their ‘difficult’ days. She inspired women to speak up and raise awareness on this issue, just as she had done by writing a feedback letter to the ‘sexist’ instructor and consequently getting support from many others in her workplace. She pointed out that sexism has – in a way – been normalised to the point where people often don’t even notice it exists. She also informed us about the KPMG report that explores what is happening on a global platform to support or disprove the common gender diversity myths in the workplace.  As we were made aware, a large proportion of the public is not very certain of what a science career entails on a daily basis, let alone of the gender inequality that often pervades the field – a problem that can only be tackled by more active communication.

The talks also pointed out some solutions to the problem – from two lovely speakers, Prof. Polly Arnold (University of Edinburgh) and Anna Ritchie Allan (manager at Close the Gap), we learnt how important it is to persuade people that ‘feminism’ is not a toxic word and to understand how the occupational gender segregation affects the world economy. Closing the gender gap in industry by increasing the number of women in male-dominated jobs, considering women for product design and promoting more female role models and leaders can influence the next generation and benefit the economy.  The Q&A session which concluded the evening also emphasised the need for more active involvement of women in STEM subjects. We heard concerns of STEM female students and advice from senior ladies who guided the younger members – and not only – to be informed and educated, to seek mentors, to congratulate feminists, to be ambitious and positive and to value the women around them and their work.

One of the main lessons to be learnt from this evening is how important positive experiences of women are in the fight against negative ones and how inspirational sharing these positive stories can be. Women should not be afraid to join communities, network with other scientists and inform people not only of the difficulties and concerns of being the minority in a STEM field, but also of how rewarding a career in science can be and how this can impact the world around them.

This article was written by Athina Frantzana and edited by Teodora Aldea.

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