Why Is It Important To Have Women and Girls in STEM?

Monday was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Organisations and scientists from across the world celebrated the work that women in scientific fields are contributing to and the many achievements and scientific advancements that women have made.

But why is it important that we acknowledge this? Why is it important that we have women in scientific fields - or STEM fields in general? Furthermore, why do we, at Wavemaker, care about promoting STEAM to all students and not just those that may already be invested?

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To first appreciate the impact that women can have in these fields, it’s important to recognise many of the notable figures that have helped to pioneer some of the technology and common history that we now take for granted.

Marie Curie was a chemist and physicist who, alongside her husband Pierre, discovered polonium and radium. She helped to develop x-ray machines for surgeries and for ambulances during World War I (some of which she drove on the front-lines). After her husband died, she took on his teaching post to become the first female teacher at the Sorbonne, a university in Paris.

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, was a mathematician who assisted Charles Babbage on his difference machine - a small-scale version of a ‘calculating machine’. She is also credited with being one of the first ‘computer programmers’ through her extensive interest and research into one of Babbage’s later inventions, the analytical engine, for which she translated and expanded upon a French paper by Luigi Federico Menabrea. It is said that a young Alan Turing read her papers.

Katherine Johnson is a mathematician who formerly worked at NASA. Her work on calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first US manned spaceflight - something which she achieved despite racial segregation. During her 35 years at NASA, she worked on a range of missions including plans for a mission to Mars. Due to her astounding contribution to NASA (and thereby America as a whole), she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the former President, Barack Obama, and has a computational research facility at NASA Langley named after her.

These are just a few of the many women who have left an impression on history. Organisations such as the Stemettes are trying to encourage more women and girls to consider pursuing STEM subjects whilst inspiring the next generation of women into STEM fields. These organisations work to change girls’ attitudes towards STEM and to overcome the stereotype of STEM subjects being ‘boys’ subjects’.

It is through the work of these organisations (as well as Wavemaker) that we change this false perception, which, over the last few years, has started to be discussed and challenged.

As with any field, diversity is key. To encourage new ways of problem-solving, unique minds need to come together, each with their own set of experiences and knowledge. Albert Einstein once said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’ and never is this more prevalent than in the advancement of medicine, engineering, theoretical mathematics and more.

By having more women and girls in STEM, as well as people from a range of ethnic, economic and social backgrounds, there is more opportunity for wider thinking and for us to advance even further within these fields. For each prospective student who is deterred from studying STEM subjects due to a misconception, a potential professional or academic who could contribute to the progression of our society is lost. For us to reach our full potential, we have to allow all learners the chance to reach their own without feeling restricted by social boundaries.

It is because of this, Wavemaker works hard to challenge misconceptions that drive many students away from STEAM subjects. We offer accessible challenges that are fun and encourage individuals and teams to find solutions based of unique ideas and thinking. Every student is given the same starting point and equipment but it is their own individual imprint that helps them to find the solution, proving that anyone can be efficient in areas of STEM.

By having women in these fields, we are providing role models for future professionals and academics much like Curie, Lovelace and Johnson did for us now. These women set a precedent that has helped us reach the milestones of today and, by helping students to enter these fields now, we are allowing learners to leave their own mark on history for the upcoming generations to follow.