13 Feb 24

Women and girls in science leadership: a new era for sustainability

 

From improving healthcare to fighting climate change, tackling the world’s biggest challenges will require harnessing all talent to advance innovative solutions. Innovation needs fresh and creative perspectives because tapping into diverse pools of knowledge is what will allow us to unlock the full potential of science. Despite this, women represent just over 35% of graduates in STEM-related fields, and just one in three researchers, according to UNESCO.

Gender equality is not only one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it is also key to achieving other SDGs, such as quality education, reduced inequalities, and innovation, industry and infrastructure. Sunday’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science (#February11) served as a great reminder that the full and equal participation and leadership of women and girls in science is essential to sustainably securing our futures and achieving the SDGs.

At Science Creates, we have an ever-growing community of pioneering female scientists who are developing solutions to improve the health of people and the health of the planet. In celebration of #February11, we caught up with them to shine a light on the importance of women and girls in science leadership in embracing a new era for sustainability.

Promoting Gender Equality

Have you encountered gender equality related challenges in science?

Dr. Stefanie Federle, Chief Scientific Officer at Kelpi: Over the whole five years of studying for my undergraduate degree in Chemistry, I only had two women as lecturers. This limited number of female role models, especially ones in leadership positions, made it hard for me to imagine that I could pursue the career path to becoming a successful female scientist in a leadership role. I overcame this challenge by talking with other female science students about their career aspirations and dreams. This helped us as a collective to encourage each other on our individual journeys and broadened my horizon to different career opportunities. To promote a more gender-inclusive scientific community, I would like to see more female scientists, both in academia and industry, actively stepping up as mentors and role models for young women.

Dr. Lucy McGowan, Innovation Manager at Science Creates: I’ve dedicated a lot of time to volunteering with local radio, charities and schools, and organising events which make science more accessible to the public, as seeing successful women in science is what led me down my own career path. However, the noble effort to platform women in science can often result in women scientists doing more unpaid labour and inadvertently contributing further to their burnout. Whether it be mentorship, panels, presentations or otherwise, we should be fostering an environment where women are paid and properly acknowledged for their representation. It cannot be the job of women to dismantle and rebuild the systems which work against them; it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Behind the scenes at GenomeKey with Dr Clio Andreae.

Can you share an initiative that promotes gender equality in science?

Dr. Clio Andreae, Senior Scientist at GenomeKey: Soapbox Science is a  public outreach platform that champions women in science by allowing them to share their work with the public. I have also been involved in various activities with Science Create Outreach to promote STEM careers to the younger generation. It is important to show young children that women can be scientists if they want to be, and Science Creates Outreach is a great charity to help promote this.

Dr. Joanna Evangelides, Operations Manager at NuNano: At NuNano, we write a yearly blog showcasing the wonderful women who work in our field of Atomic Force Microscopy and the Nanoworld. We have had a very positive response so far and have already received a number of nominations. We try to cover all ranges of qualifications, from those just starting out in their career (PhD students) to retired Professors! The PhD students are inspired by seeing the female Professors.

Inspiring Future Generations

How can supporting women and girls in science drive innovation to advance global sustainability?

Dr. Clio Andreae, Senior Scientist at GenomeKey: Supporting the development of women and girls in science is vital to drive global innovation and sustainability. Studies have shown that the promotion of women to leadership roles and the supported development of their skills and knowledge has significant positive associations with company growth. Additionally, research highlights how women in leadership even drive the fight against climate change by increasing the implementation of sustainable company practices, advancing global sustainability efforts.

Kelpi's Isabelle Picard gets hands-on in a Science Creates Outreach workshop with primary school girls.

Advocating for Inclusion

What role does inclusivity play in creating more effective and holistic solutions to global challenges?

Dr. Kate Wright, Chief Operations Officer at Extracellular: The Sustainable Development Agenda highlights the interconnectedness of global challenges, emphasising the need for collaborative efforts. Inclusivity is a fundamental principle that enhances the effectiveness and sustainability of solutions within the framework of the SDGs. It brings together diverse perspectives, promotes social equity, engages communities, respects cultural diversity, and facilitates global collaboration, which ensures the resilience and adaptability of development efforts.

Dr. Imke Sittel, Chief Scientific Officer at Glaia: Inclusivity is crucial to tackling global challenges in a ay that work for everyone, not just a few. It’s easy to get stuck in the same thinking processes if only the same minds are working on solving an issue, which can risk missing out on the best ideas. I always value conversations with friends from different parts of the world and get their individual insights into the world’s most pressing challenges. It has quite often made me reconsider my personal views, or at least made me realise that the solution to the problem isn’t as straightforward as I thought it might have been.

What do you think the scientific community can do to foster inclusivity?

Dr. Marjolein Meinders, Senior Scientist at Scarlet Therapeutics: I recognise that I’ve consistently been fortunate to work within a nurturing and supportive environment where women in leadership have supported me in balancing my career and family life. Now that I find myself in a position to do the same, I am working to empower women in my team to strike a similar, healthy work-life balance whilst pursuing their career ambitions, emphasising that it’s possible to navigate both aspects with dedication and resilience. A similar approach across the scientific community would support and foster gender equality and inclusivity.

Dr. Kate Wright, Chief Operations Officer at Extracellular: Being proactive through intentional efforts to welcome and value diverse perspectives and backgrounds will help. Initiatives such as inclusive hiring practices and representation within leadership positions create visible support which can influence organisational culture and priorities.  Support networks and mentorship programs, accessible and inclusive workspaces, flexible working policies, recognising and celebrating diversity, and DEI committees will all create a culture for feeling comfortable expressing views and opinions without fear of bias or discrimination. By actively implementing strategies such as these, the scientific community can foster a more inclusive environment, ultimately contributing to more robust and equitable scientific advancements.

At Science Creates, we are proud to embrace the diversity of our community and showcase how these voices are needed to solve the world’s most pressing issues. Championing women in science and inspiring the next generation of girls to pursue scientific careers is not only important to our mission, but crucial to securing a brighter future for all.

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