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Diversity in STEM

A Key Message from Women Leaders in Science

Gender equality is a human right, and according to the United Nations, is essential to both ensuring sustainable development and maintaining peace around the world.

One of the places where gender disparity is most pronounced is in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) arena, where in 2018, only 35 percent of all students enrolled in these fields of study were women.

With this in mind, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) founded the International Day for Women and Girls in Science to acknowledge the important role that girls and women play in science and technology, and to support gender equality in these fields.

This year’s International Day for Women and Girls in Science brought with it a joint message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO and Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. Below are three core themes from their message that speak to the importance of reducing the STEM gender gap worldwide.

Ending STEM Gender Inequality Begins in School

One of the most effective ways to encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM is to give them access to successful STEM role models with whom they can relate. Because of this, UNESCO suggests educators combat gender stereotypes by including female STEM mentors as part of their traditional school curriculum. In tandem with UNESCO’s SAGA (STEM and Gender Advancement) project, the organization continues to help policymakers around the world enact plans to reach STEM gender parity and promote legislation that inspires young women to achieve their dreams.

The Power of Empowerment

To level the STEM playing field, UN Women (the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women) created the Women’s Empowerment Principles — a set of guidelines to help companies around the world take decisive action in the fight for gender equality. These seven principles are especially useful for STEM businesses to use when establishing policies, internal goals and hiring practices.

  • Principle 1 -- Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
  • Principle 2 -- Treat all women and men fairly at work — respect and support human rights and non-discrimination
  • Principle 3 -- Ensure health, safety and well-being of all workers, regardless of gender
  • Principle 4 -- Promote women’s education, training and professional development
  • Principle 5 -- Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
  • Principle 6 -- Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
  • Principle 7 -- Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

All Hands on Deck

To solve the world’s most challenging problems, we need to harness the power of as many innovative minds as possible. Unfortunately, because women are underrepresented and underestimated in many of the most common STEM occupations, our innovative solutions are lacking the value of diversity. This point is made very clear in the most recent version of UNESCO’s SAGA Working Paper, which states, “If the world needs more scientists, it cannot afford having half of its population missing from the scientific workforce.” In the area of artificial intelligence for example, women comprise only 22 percent of the industry. Additionally, only 28.8 percent of the world’s researchers are women. These low levels of diversity point to a critical need to encourage and empower women in STEM careers around the world.

Doing Our Part 

According to recent research from The Equality of Opportunity Project, only 18 percent of patented inventors are women, and at current rates, it could take 118 years to reach gender parity. However, the research also found that if girls were exposed to female inventors at the same rate as boys are exposed to male inventors in their childhood, the current gender gap in innovation would shrink by half.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame®(NIHF) is committed to closing the STEM gender gap by introducing young women and girls, as well as boys, to our world-changing women Inductees throughout our education programming. To learn more about our mission to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in our Camp Invention® program by 2020, please visit our website. While you’re there, we encourage you to read our white paper that explores the incredible impact that exposure to innovation can have on closing the STEM gender gap once and for all!

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