There’s a long tradition of scientific research being used to make a case why women can’t do something. The publication of The Gendered Brain by Professor Gina Rippon earlier this year laid out (and debunked) centuries of questionable research, culminating in today’s “neurosexism” fuelled by clickbait headlines and lazy readings of data. You can read a useful summary in this review: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00677-x Rippon’s argument is that there are no sex differences in the brain but as social animals we pick up the cues that society provides for how we should behave and that women in science are also viewed through a very male perspective.
In an earlier ACF Equity Research post, we examined the potential of AI and raised our concerns about algorithms being built and trained by a very small section of our population. Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Design for Men (now shortlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Book of the Year Award) looks way beyond machine learning, making the case for the dangers of economic, medical and design data bias for the female population (including car safety designed for male bodies, resulting in women being 47% more likely to be seriously injured).
But this a problem for society, not one gender and it’s a problem we urgently need to tackle. Diversity (and not just gender diversity) is vital if we are to create inclusive innovation and to find those insights that will enable our planet to survive and thrive. And if you choose to put moral arguments to one side, there’s surely a commercial mis-step in not addressing just over half of the world’s population.
So why aren’t more women studying and working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)? There are many theories out there and many rooted in not a great deal of hard research. Let’s look at the start of the pipeline – girls and young women need to study these subjects to move into relevant careers. We were very interested in the 2017 pan-European research paper from Microsoft, which examined why girls and young women dropped out of studying STEM. https://news.microsoft.com/europe/features/dont-european-girls-like-science-technology/
The company asked 11,500 women and girls between the ages of 11 – 30 about their attitudes to STEM – the first time such pan-regional research had been undertaken. While there were some variations across countries, taken as a whole, most girls became interested in STEM at the age of 11 but their interest generally waned by the age of 15.
Having role models at home and in the classroom was important (you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying goes and we’re also socialized to like what we are encouraged to like). How STEM is taught matters: practical, hands-on experience and collaborative working can make a real difference. Understanding the careers available and being confident that men and women in STEM careers are treated equally also makes a big difference.
The good news is that these are all things that are fixable and there are many schools, NGOS, parents and Governments that are taking the finding of this report and others very seriously. Coding clubs are springing up. The creative possibilities of technology are being explored in the classroom with a generation of digital natives. There are more role models on social and mainstream media. But there is still much work to do. Women need to be shaping our future. The world needs more female scientists, engineers and technologists.
At ACF Equity Research we are proud to have a diverse team – we are all the better for it.
Anne Castagnede, Sales & Strategy at ACF Equity Research, comes from a large cap high touch luxury goods background and joined ACF first quarter 2019