Albert Eistein, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Stephen Hawking. Need I go on. We're all familiar with our scientific pioneers but how many female scientists can you name? I only heard about Ada Lovelace yesterday. She was the founder of computer programming. This isn't just a historical problem - women are still significantly under-represented in science and tech jobs. Just 19 per cent of Google's tech staff are women and inequality in academia in scientific subjects is well documented.
In her seminal work, Delusions of Gender, another influential female scientist, Cordelia Fine, explains how we learn about and internalise gender. Through scientific inquiry, she reveals the bad science behind claims of an innately female or male brain. Instead, she argues, that a common sense understanding that men are scientific and women are caring is soft-wired into our brains through the gender norms we are exposed to. In this sense, there is no escaping gender bias - we are all subject to it. Is it any wonder then that the children in this video are so shocked to meet female firefighters, surgeons and RAF pilots after expecting them to be male?
The good news is that plasticity of the brain means that these biases can be influenced: new neural pathways can be formed that tell different stories.
At Renaisi we're currently doing some research for the Wellcome Trust on young people's engagement in science. This led me to reflect on my own (dis)engagement with science and wonder what role gender has played.
I've never thought of myself as scientific. In fact I've always believed 'I'm no good at science'. And yet, objectively I was fairly good at it. I got the same grades as other subjects, I did better in the logic philosophy model at university than other modules, and my friends can't keep me away from Science Lates at the science museum (although this is mainly because you get to dress up as a cockroach). It may not be completely gender related, but for whatever reason I decided science wasn't for me. Perhaps, had I known about Ada Lovelace and other role models, it might have been different.
See here to learn about more influential female scientists!
This lack of balance is not some quaint holdover from a bygone era, still working its way through the system: the starting ratios have been equal for a generation, but women remain at a clear disadvantage. The reasons are complex, and probably include confidence issues, bias and family-unfriendly realities – long hours, the need to be itinerant, persistent job insecurity, and the self-fulfilling negative feedback loop of a lack of role models at the top.