Women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, commonly known as STEM, is still lacking. According to data published by UNESCO in the report “Cracking the Code: girls’ and women’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)”, only 28% of all of the world’s researchers are women. This Wednesday, 23rd October, Técnico and CMU Portugal Program organised the seminar “Why are we still talking about Gender Balance in STEM?”.
According to the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Manuel Heitor, “this is not a new issue, but it has becoming increasingly relevant. In Portugal, the number of female doctorates has increased six times, in the last 25 years”. “Only 25% of full professors are female. We must try to solve this problem in Portugal and in the rest of the world”.
“Aerospace Engineering or Electronics Engineering are clearly male dominated engineering sectors, but not only in Portugal. This is a worldwide dilemma”. The Minister also highlighted the importance of this debate “at a time when Portugal has unique opportunities to improve career development, we must focus on Science and Higher Education policy in the coming years”.
Lenore Blum, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, shared her experience with the audience and explained what measures were implemented so that 50% of admitted students in computer science courses at CMU are female. Professor Lenore Blum shared some data that showed Portugal “as one of the best countries for women pursuing a career in technology in 2018”. According to the professor, the key to success is “to make life at campus more favourable to women so that they feel welcomed and supported during the academic experience”.
The importance of inspirational role models, the existence of conditions that make girls feel welcomed in these courses, the promotion of programmes for girls in elementary school and the involvement of primary schools teachers in keeping girls engaged in science, are crucial to attract more women to STEM. “Appropriate interventions in the micro-culture and in the environment play a more important role rather than the gender difference itself and will enhance greater participation of women in computing”, said professor Lenore Blum.
Teresa Fragoso, president of the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG), Isabel Sá Correia, Técnico professor, Cristina Fonseca, co- founder of Talkdesk, Pedro Lima, Técnico professor, and Mariana Araújo, PhD student at Técnico and winner of Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo Award, shared their experiences and knowledge with the audience. The session was moderated by Catarina Carvalho, Executive editor in Chief of Diário de Notícias newspaper.
“We must show that women can be good at science as they are in other areas”
The gender stereotypes that affect career choices, the influence of education and the family support, and the importance of passing the message “women can be very successful in science”, were some topics addressed during the session. “Being a woman in a man’s world generates a lot of surprise and sometimes people doubt our ability, but the solution is to have self-confidence”, says Cristina Fonseca. “Sometimes the disengagement of women with these areas has to do with ideas from society itself, small gestures that do not encourage women to pursue STEM careers. We must show that women can be good at science as they are in other areas”, said Mariana Araújo.
Professor António Cruz Serra, Rector of Universidade de Lisboa, professor Maria das Dores Guerreiro, Vice-rector of the University Institute of Lisbon and professor Arlindo Oliveira, President of Técnico, participated in a round table moderated by Ligia Amâncio, coordinator of the European Systemic Action for Gender Equality (SAGE) project. Gender equality, parity on governing bodies, expectations for the future, possible strategies for captivating more girls for STEM courses and career progression were highlighted during the session. “Several measures have been implemented at Técnico in order to deal with this problem”, stressed professor Arlindo Oliveira. “Gender equality is everyone’s issue. We need to have more men in the room when we are discussing these issues. We must involve ourselves and work together”, said the rector of Universidade de Lisboa.