How does gender balance make STEM better?


8 Mar 2019125 Views

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For International Women’s Day, Silicon Republic asked a panel of eight women in STEM about gender balance in their workplaces.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘balance for better’, so our second question to our panel of eight women in STEM was: how do you think gender balance improves STEM? Here are their responses.

‘This is about taking a wider view of end users’

Gender balance most definitely improves STEM, particularly in the space where the user or research beneficiary is to be considered first when applying for research funding. This is a key area of natural strength for female researchers, even if they do not know it yet. (Maybe I am being gender-biased here!)

In essence, this is about taking a wider view of who research stakeholders and end users are.

– DIPTI PANDYA

‘It ensures we are creating solutions for the many’

Gender balance improves STEM because it ensures we are creating solutions for the many. If we have only one gender represented in the team making everyday solutions for everyday people, then we are not considering the needs of other genders in that solution. That ultimately means our solution has failed.

Having a better balance means more robust, well-rounded and well-formed solutions, which is better for everyone involved.

– SHEREE ATCHESON

‘No one person, or one way of thinking, will solve big challenges’

Of course it’s better to have a mix of all types of people, especially in science. I think it’s essential. Young, old, male, female, all races and nationalities – everyone has different ways of thinking and different strengths, and no one person, or one way of thinking, will solve big challenges such as cancer.

– LYDIA LYNCH

‘Women bring particularly important skills to teamwork’

Teamwork is essential in the type of research I do and I think women bring particularly important skills, whether it’s creating a welcome environment in the lab, chatting and collaborating with other researchers, [or] realising the importance of engaging on science and the patient and public involvement level, and mostly supporting each other. All this leads to research, training and development of real impact – and, in the long run, a great place to work!

– LORNA LOPEZ

‘Better balance will lessen the burden on the women already in STEM’

Overall, I think gender balance will lessen the burden on the women currently in STEM. With the drive to have gender balance in applications, on boards, in photos etc, the responsibility often falls to the same few available women. This can then be counterproductive in enabling a good work-life balance for women.

– SUSAN KELLEHER

‘It leads the way for greater equality’

I think gender balance would improve STEM in a threefold manner.

One, STEM becoming a leader in equal and fair hiring practices at every level becomes a beacon for other fields to innovate and commit to the introduction of new perspectives in both research undertaking as well as research communication. It also leads the way for greater equality for disabled and LGBTQ+ people and people of colour in STEM.

Two, gender balance is a powerful driver in exploring hitherto under-researched scientific areas. It is more likely to see topics such as women’s experience of pain funded for examination in the scientific realm when it’s given validity by women in high academic standing carrying out this research, rather than the traditional erasure of women’s healthcare and mental health seen in the past due to male-dominant research fields.

Three, systematic gender balancing through tackling cultural biases of hiring in STEM (rather than singular affirmative actions such as women-only professorships) will lead to a kinder work culture between women and men in the cutthroat field of academia; a culture where the representation of different people and perspectives becomes de rigueur rather than being stigmatised and undermined due to explicit tokenisation of single opportunities.

– SHUBHANGI KARMAKAR

‘It will turn the tide on perceived women or men-only jobs’

I believe that women along with men also have excellent views, creativity, ideas, hypotheses and research initiatives that can only complement the innovative nature of careers in STEM. Gender balance is essential to encourage more young people in school (boys and girls) to see that both women and men are a critical part of STEM. Gender balance turns the tide on perceived female- or male-only jobs. Diversity and inclusiveness should be the right for all in employment.

We also know that a gender-balanced workplace is more creative, more equitable and more productive. However, to achieve this gender balance, it needs large investment at grassroots level (ie primary and secondary school).

– NAOMI WALSH

‘Inclusion can only have the side effect of encouraging stronger research’

Diversity is an asset rather than an issue in the workplace. Being more inclusive can only have the side effect of encouraging novel and stronger research ideas and teaching practices. An institution where diversities are included, there is a good work-life balance, and students and staff are happy can only have the good side effect of attracting more talented students and academics, and, ultimately, improving the reputation of the country.

– LILIANA PASQUALE