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María de Ujue Moreno Zulategui, Researcher at CIMA of the University of Navarra and CIBERCV and mentor of the Women for Science and Technology Program.

Women and science: an inescapable challenge for the whole society

As every year, February 11 marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a date promoted by the UN to share the achievements of women in science and technology and to raise awareness in our society that we can still do much more.

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 11:07:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper
Ujué Moreno

Unlike in past centuries, today there is no doubt that women, because of our abilities, are perfectly suited to science and engineering. It is not surprising that this is so: women are very observant, we have a great capacity to relate concepts and ideas, we see beyond what is obvious, we are efficient in the management of resources, we have a great capacity to imagine novel options; we are also practical, we tend to look for solutions to problems -especially if they affect other people- and we are good at forming teams and transmitting knowledge. However, statistics show that although we have come a long way and more and more young women are studying scientific disciplines, only a quarter of researchers are women. Why does this imbalance still exist?

The causes are diverse and complex. It is clear that there is still a long way to go. Even more so in developing countries development, where there is still no equal schooling for boys and girls and in most cases they lack references to awaken their scientific vocation. However, although this reality may seem distant to us, it is worth asking ourselves whether here, in the West, we encourage boys and girls alike to become, for example, astronauts. Or if, driven by stereotypes and more or less hidden prejudices, we think that they will be more prepared simply because they are boys.

Later on, during the programs of study and the first years of working life, there are data that show that a man's initiative and achievements are not equally valued compared to those of a woman: if a man shines, he is admired; if a woman stands out, she is fault-finding and less appreciated; men are hired for their potential, women for their achievements.

In the case of women scientists -and women professionals in general- it is also common for them to have to choose between a degree program or a family, since work-life balance represents another pending subject in our society. Among them, those who with great effort choose to contribute with a family and a professional degree program , far from feeling supported and valued, often suffer anguish for feeling that they are neglecting both facets. Likewise, job instability - due to the lack of Structures and resources that facilitate long-term scientific careers deadline- makes women decide to support their partners in the development of their careers, relegating them to secondary roles. In this description of the labor panorama, self-criticism should not be lacking, since on many occasions women themselves should improve the attention among ourselves (for example, both women and men tend to interrupt more and recognize less the achievements of female partners than those of male partners).

How can we contribute to change this panorama? The solutions must come from society as a whole, starting with the core of the family - where development , regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl, no limitations are placed on vocational diversity for cultural or social reasons -, followed by governments - who are responsible for developing solid scientific plans to promote equality - and by science itself, which can provide information on guidelines to facilitate a change in attitudes (for example: if the members of a team are aware of the different attention towards men and women, strategies can be established to identify inequalities and correct them). It is everyone's job to promote the Education for gender equality in all areas of life, not just the professional ones.

New technologies can also contribute a lot, since they will favor the collaborative and non-presential work , tool very valuable for work-life balance. With new technologies, it is also easier to make the work of women scientists more visible and to make their examples and careers known to future female technologists.

This international day, finally, represents nothing more than a new opportunity for girls to have no doubt of the great capabilities they possess (just like boys) and how wonderful it is to think, invent and discover, knowing that society values and promotes the participation of women in science and technology without fissures.