UN calls for added support of women in STEM careers

Yesterday marked the third official UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Yesterday marked the third official UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Sunday marked the third official UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Adopted by the General Assembly at the 70th session of the United Nations in 2015, the day is used to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"Unfortunately, women and girls continued to be excluded from participating fully in science," said UN secretary-general Ant'onio Guterres in a statement.

"According to a study conducted in 14 countries, the probability for female students of graduating with a Bachelor's degree, Master's degree and Doctor's degree in science-related field are 18%, 8% and 2% respectively, while the percentages of male students are 37%, 18% and 6%.

"We need to do more to encourage and support girls and women achieve their full potential as scientific researchers and innovators."

Locally, only 13% of graduates in the STEM fields are women, despite SA being ranked 19th out of 144 countries in the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report.

Dr Beverley Damonse, group executive corporate relations and science engagement at the National Research Foundation, says the organisation is working hard to bridge the gender gap.

"The UN has noted that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a significant contribution to the economic development of nations. Despite this realisation, research on women in science, technology and innovation continues to show there is fewer women faculty in STEM at higher education and research institutions.

"A number of reasons for this have been put forward, including limited professional development opportunities provided to early career female researchers, limited institutional support for work-life balance in science, and discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion and retention.

"We have implemented interventions that directly speak to the findings of the research and we have set for ourselves ambitious targets in increasing the participation of women and girls in STEM.

"However, this challenge is a societal one and needs all South Africans to pull together in encouraging and supporting women and girls already in STEM and those still considering their entry in science, technology and innovation," she comments.

Laura Poultney, BSG's relationship sales support manager, who holds a BComm (Hons) in information systems and management from Rhodes University and has over 15 years' experience in the field, says valuable mentoring plays a big role in ensuring young women are successful in their chosen STEM careers.

"Careers in the fields of STEM are the driving force behind innovation and the technological transformation the Information Age promises. As a mentor, we need to encourage female graduates looking to start a career in STEM to be happy to learn, take something positive from every opportunity, have courageous conversations and work a little bit harder than everyone else.

"As a female consultant, being underestimated can work in your favour. You have the opportunity to delight clients by delivering beyond their expectations. Don't be afraid to go the extra mile and prove yourself."

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