Why Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are Agents of Change

For the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th, Noémie Moreau from Mantu reflects upon the current state of the nations as well as the importance of women in the STEM field and what is needed for them to feel more integrated in the workplace.

As the Head of Risk, Audit and Compliance for an international ecosystem of brands, it’s my job to identify and mitigate potential threats to our people, organization, partners, and clients. As such, I can confirm that the past few years have been turbulent for everyone; the young, the old, workers, students, and everyone in between. All of us have recently experienced some significant disruptions to life as we knew it.

The burden of this turmoil, however, has not affected us all equally. UN data show that violence against women and girls increased during the pandemic. One in four women considered leaving or downshifting their paid employment, versus one in five men. Women lost 64 million jobs and $800 billion in earnings in 2020, around 5% of total jobs held by women, while men lost 3.9%. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Oxfam estimates that 47 million women and girls have been pushed into extreme poverty.

These statistics, though harrowing, can seem far removed from the daily routines of many of us. How could I, working on reports in an office on an ordinary street in Europe, possibly hope to affect the kind of change needed to aid the plight of millions of women around the world? Well, actually, as a woman working in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field, I can see plenty of ways that girls and women could benefit from a step change that could begin right here, right now.

State of the Nations

The Covid-19 crisis gave female leaders a platform like never before. Political figures like Jacinda Arden, Tsai-Ing Wen, Sanna Marin and Nicola Sturgeon have been hailed for their acknowledgement of the human cost of the pandemic, and much has been written of their determination to ensure that economic concerns did not overtake their commitment to public services.

Research by Zenger and Folkman, 2020, for the Harvard Business Review explains why women are better leaders during a crisis, with women rated higher than men on all but two of 19 leadership competencies. In the context of the pandemic, one study confirmed that the number of infections and deaths were systematically better in countries led by women, with these findings echoed by another that focused on outcomes in US states with female leaders.

We must therefore ask why, then, do 85% of 115 Covid-19 taskforces from 87 countries have a male majority? Just 3.5% of these taskforces have achieved gender parity.

The answer may lie within the talent pools that the taskforce members are sourced from. Political science, research, policy, technology, and healthcare all suffer from the same problem: they are, or rely on, STEM fields, and there is a dearth of female talent at every level, across every STEM industry.

A 2018 UNESCO report summarizes this issue: worldwide, just 33% of researchers, 28% of engineering graduates, 40% of computer science graduates, and 22% of artificial intelligence (AI) professionals are women. Fewer than one in four researchers in the business sphere are female.