Women in STEM on an International Scale

February 09, 2018

Written by: Vanessa Reich-Shackelford

WWEST's focus on attracting and retaining women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields has always been local, but with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science around the corner on February 11, we wondered how the involvement of women and girls in STEM fields in other countries differs from Canada. Not surprisingly, it is clear to see through a comparison of a few regions that this issue of low women's participation is systemic across the globe, but that the many international initiatives are creating a positive, upward trend. Vladimir Sucha, the Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (part of the European Union), states in Elsevier's "Gender in the Global Research Landscape" report that there is "clearly a growing awareness and evidence about the benefits of diversity and gender equity," and that "the old idea of there being typical 'male' subject areas is falling." He also mentions there are "exciting developments" in the area of behavioural insights that can help identify and rectify biases. What kind of initiatives exist globally to support and propel women in STEM careers? How many women are participating in STEM fields internationally? To cover various corners of the globe, we examine these questions in relation to Germany, Japan, and Africa.

Source: Vector EPS


Summary: From approximately 2003-2013, according to an article in Germany's der Spiegel magazine, only 1 in 10 first-year electrical engineering students has been a woman. The "MINT Zukunft schaffen" project (translated as "Achieving a STEM future") reports that in mathematics, technology, and science, 40% of university graduates with their first degrees in 2011 were women, which is almost double the percentage of women graduating with degrees in engineering (22.4%). The Federal Ministry of Education and Research reports that in 2000, women entering their university studies in STEM were at 21.1%, but this figure had risen to 25.8% in 2014.

While participation in STEM for women is on the rise in Germany, there is still an obvious lack of women in these fields. The statistics are comparable to Canada (where only 26.5% of women enrolled in post-secondary institutions in 2015-16 participated in math, computer, and information sciences). Anja Huth, spokeswoman for Germany's Federal Employment Agency, told der Spiegel that one problem is too many young women take an interest in what she calls "dead-end fields of study and professions." Jutta Dalhoff, director of the Centre of Excellence Women and Science (CEWS) maintains that even with the best initiatives, it's hard to get gender clichés out of people's heads.

Initiatives: Germany has and has had many initiatives to combat the problem of low participation of women in STEM. Firstly, "Komm mach MINT," whose name is a wordplay on the phrase in German "to take part in something," features a multi-faceted approach, including video podcasts, a partnership between STEM employers and the government to create more opportunities for women, and a MINT-Slam - similar to a poetry slam - in which women in STEM tell their stories. The government also organizes the "MINT-Pakt und Girls' Day" ("STEM Pact and Girls' Day"), in which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has made a pact to involve more women and girls in STEM fields and activities. They have also designated a day (the "Girls' Day" part of the title) where organizations in the STEM fields can help girls see where they might fit in once they finish their post-secondary studies. Because it is imperative to get girls interested in STEM at early ages, the German government has also created initiatives to assist early childhood educators, such as "Kleine Forscher" ("Little Scientists"). In a project that is possibly the first of its kind, the city of Rostock in northern Germany began a webseries called "Sturm des Wissens" ("Storm of Knowledge"), which follows the story of Nele Wagner, a teenager who begins to study physics. The web soap opera was created with the goal of showing STEM fields in a positive light so that more girls will consider studying them in their school careers, and the title is a play on that of a popular soap opera in Germany.

Source: Tech in Asia


Summary: As a share of total researchers, women made up 14.7% in 2014, according to this fact sheet by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The Japan Inter-Society Liaison Committee for Promoting Equal Participation of Men and Women in Science and Engineering (EPMEWSE) also surveyed 16,314 researchers in STEM fields in 2013. Of that total number, 4,356 were women. And in Elsevier's "Gender in the Global Research Landscape" report, it is shown that the proportion and number of researchers by gender (among named and gendered author profiles) was 20% for women in Japan in 2011-2015 (note: the report covers women's participation in 27 subject areas and is not reporting exclusively on STEM fields). Many female researchers are leaving Japan for better opportunities in other countries, according to Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Officer of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). She says, “In Japan, a declining birth rate and growing elderly population are key issues, along with the decreasing labour work force.” Watanabe points out that productivity is higher for women than men in Japan because many decision makers are men, so “women must write more papers than men to succeed and advance in their research careers.” Workers who are women must be very efficient because they have less time to accomplish the same tasks as men, as they work fewer hours to care for children. “If more women join the scientific workforce and take diverse positions,” says Watanabe, “I believe that Japanese productivity would be higher.”

Initiatives: According to the website for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, at the United Nation’s last General Assembly, Japanese Prime Minister Abe emphasized Japan’s intention to enhance cooperation with the international community and its assistance to developing countries for women’s empowerment and gender equality, as part of its effort to address global agenda. Japan has a target for women to occupy 30% of leadership positions by 2030. Additionally, Tohoku University was the first in Japan to establish a Committee of Gender Equality, a campus-wide organization, followed by the adoption of the Tohoku University Declaration on Promoting Gender Equality. The university's Center for Gender Equality Promotion (TUMUG) operates the Morinomiyako Project for Empowering Women in Research under the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Science and Technology Human Resource Development Support Program. Other universities are also spearheading programs and projects to lead the cause of gender equality in STEM. Ochanomizu University has developed the COSMOS set of indicators for Japanese institutions to evaluate their education and research environment. Nagoya University is also one of the UN's HeforSHe university impact champions and has committed to increase representation of women in university leadership positions by 20% by 2020.



Summary: Africa produces less than 1% of research output in the whole world, and Dr. Rose Mutiso (co-founder and CEO of Mawazo Institute, a nonprofit research initiative based in Nairobi, Kenya that supports the next generation of woman thought leaders and scholars in Africa) states that economic and socio-political challenges of Africa make it a "weak environment for both women and men but even more so for women." She also maintains there is a great need for more data to see where the gaps are between women and men in STEM. Looking at university data, a study of universities in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania found that only 20-35% of students in STEM were women.

Initiatives: For Africa as a whole, UNESCO has committed to promoting women in science by hosting workshops and conferences in their Nairobi office for university women decision makers and mid-career women scientists and engineers. The Africa-EU Partnership has established a joint strategy between the European Union and the African continent to promote common interests, including accelerating socio-economic transformation "based on harnessing science, technology and innovation (STI) for sustainable development." Their initiatives, however, do not focus solely on women in STEM, but rather on eradicating extreme poverty and creating more access to education in general, which are both essential for supporting a more robust STEM culture. In 2013, the Africa Women in Science and Technology (AWiST) organization was launched in Kenya to provide STEM opportunities for woman students and professionals, enabling girls and women to build connections in the STEM fields through discussions, field-work, and mentoring. The program was implemented by STEM Africa, and has reached 120 "ladies in STEM," 750 school girls, and over 100 students in university (date range is not given). The WAAW (Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women) Foundation also engages in STEM outreach and mentoring in 18 chapters in 11 African countries. The organization offers bootcamps, STEM and computer science camps, scholarships, coding clubs, outreach, mentoring, and teacher training.

What can be done to improve the participation of women in STEM? While each country has its own unique challenges, overall, the numbers of women in STEM around the world are suffering. Creating positive work environments that support women in their careers, addressing workplace harassment, and, in some areas of the world, focusing on enhancing the innovation and science sectors will pave the way for more participation of women in STEM globally. Positive depictions and representations of women in STEM as role models will help to inspire girls around the world to try out science, technology, engineering, and math activities, and hopefully, will encourage them to stick with it into their post-secondary education and beyond.

In the case of Germany, the "Komm mach MINT" initiative's website states that practical knowledge must be used effectively and successful models must be disseminated. Conferences such as WoMenPower in Hannover create opportunities for efficient networking on the issue of women in management (see also our Creating Connections conference for a British Columbia/Yukon equivalent!). The positive upward trend of women's participation in STEM in Germany has certainly created hope for a vibrant future.

In Japan, there are initiatives in place to attract more women to STEM fields, however, not as much emphasis on retaining those women. Focusing on retention is critical, as data from the aforementioned survey of 4,356 woman researchers in Japan shows that only 15.6% of women chose their occupations because of a good balance between family life and career. Other data from this survey indicate that 7.8% of women respondents gave marriage and 9.1% of women gave caring for children as reasons for quitting/changing their jobs or relocating. Over 50% of women who responded gave "workplace environment" and "no provision existed" as reasons for not taking childcare leave.

In Africa, affirmative action could have a positive affect on education outcomes for students in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Just like in Germany and Japan, mentorship to develop female thought leaders is necessary, as African women face a number of structural barriers as they seek to have their work recognized. Developing equal research partnerships is also essential. Lastly, addressing the widespread problem of poverty and creating access to education is also at the forefront.

Finally, focusing on how countries can work together through intiatives and events such the United Nation's International Day of Women and Girls in Science will help get the ball rolling on creating an internationally friendly STEM atmosphere for women.

Click here for events around the world for International Day of Women and Girls in Science! For a more local, Canadian take on this event, visit the Twitter of the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science.