Science needs more women says EU, as it launches ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’ campaign

21 Jun 2012

The European Commission has today launched a new three-year campaign targeted at getting more teenage girls interested in science. European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn launched the science initiative today, which will cover all 27 EU member states for the next three years.

According to the Commission, the European Union is going to need up to one million extra researchers by 2020. And right now women comprise more than half the EU’s student population and 45pc of all PhDs, but they account for only one third of career researchers.

Because women PhD graduates are also still a minority in engineering and manufacturing, the Commission has launched the three-year campaign with the aim of getting teenage girls interested in studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Tackling the gender dimension

Speaking today at the European Parliament in Brussels, Geoghegan-Quinn spoke about how Europe needs more female scientists and researchers.

“We need them to solve problems like climate change, energy and public health. We need them to help improve our economy and to help provide growth and jobs,” she said.

Geoghegan-Quinn spoke about her commitment since 2010 to improving gender equality and the gender dimension in research and innovation.

She said two areas need to be tackled, as research institutions will have to make structural changes to encourage more women to pursue science careers, while she said young women and girls will also need to be encouraged to choose science and research for their studies and careers.

“Girls and women have always wanted to be involved in science, but to do this they have always had to overcome bigger obstacles than the boys have had to … Yes, we have come very far since the 1880s, when the Irish woman Annie Maunder was refused a degree from Cambridge despite coming top of her class in mathematics – because formal degrees were only awarded to men,” said Geoghegan-Quinn.

She went on to say that there are many factors involved in the discrepancy between women and men in research, such as a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping that begins in school and less family-friendly working conditions in some workplaces.

Getting rid of clichés

“We want to overturn clichés and show women and girls, and boys too, that science is not about old men in white coats,” said Geoghegan-Quinn.

She said that the first part of the campaign will target teenage girls in secondary education with the slogan ‘Science: it’s a girl thing’. Then, a second phase, will work towards at encouraging female students to pursue scientific careers.

“We also want to show that science is creative, innovative, as well as fun, and socially useful,” said the Commissioner. She said that another aim of the campaign would be to make science “sexy” and “cool”.

As part of the new campaign, the Commission has launched a Facebook page – Science: It’s a girl thing. It also has created a special EU website dedicated to the initiative, with games and profiles of women in science.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic