The SAGA Science, Technology and Innovation Gender Objectives List (STI GOL) published by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2016) was used as an initial conceptual schema to capture elements of “good practice” regarding each initiative. As STI GOL was originally created with the intention of classifying policies and their associated instruments, some adaptations were made to the objectives and their sub-categories for the purpose of structuring the Gender Gap project database. A summary of the changes we have made to each objective to date is presented below.
Objective 1: Change perceptions, attitudes, behaviours, social norms and stereotypes towards women in STEM in society
- Recommendation: Include challenge STEM stereotypes
This objective should include Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics stereotypes, rather than just referring to stereotypes towards women in STEM. In respect to gender diversity and STEM, the fundamental issue is that stereotypical views of the type of person who engages with STEM disciplines do not align with how females typically see themselves. It is important to make this distinction as it is possible that STEM stereotypes rather than just gender stereotypes can deter females from STEM.
- Recommendation: Add a sub-category to acknowledge the influence of families and communities on changing attitudes towards STEM.
A subcategory to be added to this objective could be formulated as: “Promote strategies that engage families/communities in STEM careers to challenge cultural expectations and norms”. Families and communities are crucial in the objectives to change perceptions, attitudes, behaviours, social norms and stereotypes towards women in STEM in society, as promoting STEM careers to girls might be contrary to cultural expectations and norms. Parents are influencers in students’ education and career decisions, it is important to target any stereotype they may have about STEM disciplines being more suited to males.
- Recommendation: Add a sub-category to acknowledge outreach activities aimed at developing citizen’s scientific literacy in communities.
This subcategory could be stated as: “Promote strategies that engage citizens in a community to develop scientific literacy and knowledge of social scientific issues”. Research studies have provided evidence that scientific literacy is correlated to interest and engagement in science learning; therefore to change negative perceptions about STEM it is important to encourage public participation in activities that increase scientific literacy.
Objective 2: Engage girls and young women in STEM primary and secondary education, as well as in technical and vocational education and training
- Recommendation: Add several subcategories under this objective to acknowledge various strategies that engage girls and young women in STEM primary and secondary education
Add subcategory “Promote mentoring programs in primary and secondary education (higher education mentoring and industry mentoring)”. Mentoring is a valuable support to students from underrepresented groups and should therefore be encouraged.
Add subcategory “Promote workshops that develop females’ confidence and other skills (leadership, communication, and critical thinking)”. Females report they are under-confident in their capabilities compared to their male classmates. Student confidence is an important indicator of science subject choice and success. The development of skills required for STEM professions can also increase females’ confidence in their capabilities to engage in a STEM career.
Add subcategory “Promote equal access to STEM subjects in schools”. While many studies focus on student participation rates, schools can limit or facilitate subject choices or participation in advanced subject levels. Schools can gender-type subjects, for example, by promoting physics to male students and biology to females.
Add sub-category “Provide work shadowing opportunities in second level education”. Programmes for secondary school students to experience the professional world of STEM present opportunities to redefine gender identities in science and challenge gender and STEM stereotypes that discourage females from pursuing STEM.
Add sub-category “Promote STEM networks of female students (secondary education)”. Peer groups can act as a means to develop positive values about STEM that endorse females’ sense of belonging in STEM fields. Females can feel isolated from STEM groups that are dominated by males.
Objective 3: Attraction, access to and retention of women in STEM higher education at all levels
- Recommendation: Add subcategories that expand on the recruitment and retention strategies stated in the original objective.
Promote mentoring of higher education students.
Promote strategies that aim to develop female confidence and commination skills.
Provide training to undergraduates in outreach and avocation in promoting STEM education.
While these subcategories are the same as those added to Objective 2, as they are situated in the higher education context, they may have different purposes. For example, in higher education mentoring programs may have greater emphasis on career pathways rather than subject choice.
Objective 4: Gender equality in career progression for scientists and engineers (S&E)
- Recommendation: Expand Objective 4 to include STEM academics specifically.
The lack of women in senior STEM academic roles has been reported by Athena Swan.
- Recommendation: Expand subcategory 4.7 to acknowledge differential gender-based effects of obstacles experienced by males and females
Subcategory 4.7 states, “Promote transformations of STI institutions and organizations (structure, governance, policies, norms and values) aimed at achieving gender equality”. This should be expanded to include obstacles that may be experienced by both male and females but are more detrimental to females. For example, short-term contracts for early career researchers affect both male and female research staff. However, the impact of a short term contract can be different on males and females based on social norms and values; for example, females may be deterred from these positions due to the lack of benefits like maternity leave.
- Recommendation: Add subcategories for strategies that promote gender equality in career progression
It is proposed to add seven sub categories to the fourth objective.
- Promote mentoring of STEM professionals.
The mentoring of STEM professionals is an important means of accelerating employees’ careers so that they progress to more senior roles.
- Promote gender representation in the sector.
It is important to promote gender representation in STEM as male dominated environments can discourage females from joining or remaining in a discipline.
- Promote gender bias training to STEM professionals.
Gender stereotypes are generally consistent in countries with men portrayed through adjectives associated with agency and women described using adjectives associated with communality. Bias training is important as biased workplace practices inhibit women progressing in their career. It is important to educate both men and women as research reports both sexes are prejudiced against females.
- Promote initiatives that increase female STEM networks/role models at professional level.
The social advantages gained from being part of a social group have been expressed by sociologists as capital. Females in STEM can feel isolated from their male colleagues in instances where they are the minority, having a decreased access to the support of a STEM network.
- Promote scholarships and awards at professional level.
The Matilda Effect, a term first coined by Rossiter in 1993, describes the disproportionate number of science awards and prizes received by males compared to females. More recently conducted research shows that this bias is still prevalent..
- Develop industry skillsets (for example, public speaking)
Deficiencies in personal and interpersonal skills act as barriers to female progression in careers and can be used an indicators about whether a female will remain in STEM. There is a need to provide training to staff to develop these skills to advance in their STEM career.
- Promote female networks
Significant gender differences exist in networking patterns. In some STEM disciplines woman may lack professional networks which can impede their career progression.