Women and girls: brilliant minds in technology

Even though men and women have the same capacity for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), women are consistently underrepresented and less encouraged to participate in these fields, research shows.  

Bridging the gender gap is essential to the development and future of humanity, and at the very core of the UN’s vision for a better world. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February) is a major opportunity to put this central issue at the forefront. 

So why is it important? Further involving half of the world’s population in STEM fields will improve the chances of achieving the SDGs by 2030 – goals that were made to tackle a broad number of global issues. Putting an effort into the inclusion of women in natural sciences is not just a question of gender equality (SDG 5), but also relevant to SDG 3 (‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’) as well as increased climate action (SDG 13), where women will be part of the workforce to find sustainable solutions.  

Specific issues 

Women only make up around a third of researchers globally, according to UIS (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). The data indicates a more fundamental problem which cannot only be solved by looking at hard numbers. Qualitative research shows a variety of factors that play into the limited participation of women in STEM: From social and other intertwined factors such as expectations in family life, an unequal workplace environment as well as lower financial support for research compared to men.  

A 2017 study found that: “by the age of 6, girls are already less likely than boys to describe their own gender as ‘brilliant’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very smart’ kids.” This substantially affects the prospect of girls wanting to work in STEM-fields, since these are often seen as difficult – requiring a ‘brilliant mind’. 

girls in a laboratory; experiments
Women only account for around 28 percent of engineering graduates and 40 percent of graduates in computer science and informatics.

From the social and financial side of the issue, families with limited resources often have difficulties providing their children with teaching in math and science in general, and for girls in particular. Ethnicity, language and immigrant status also plays a major role. Finally, women are 20% less likely than men to own a smartphone and 300 million fewer women access mobile internet in low- and middle-income countries. 

Once in, things do not get easy 

For women who do pursue a career in these fields, not only is the pay lower on average than the case is for their male counterparts, women also typically receive smaller research grants 

Women have shorter, less well-paid careers. They are underrepresented in high-profile journals and often passed over for promotion.  

On the bright side, it should be noted that in some countries women have achieved parity in the life sciences – even sometimes dominating them. Not so in digital information technology, computing, however. Despite a shortage of skills in these fields, women only account for around 28 percent of engineering graduates and 40 percent of graduates in computer science and informatics, according to an upcoming UNESCO report.   

Specific solutions? 

The UN do not address the issues merely by words, but provide various measures to improving these statistics and combating gender inequality regarding educational opportunities.  

In 2021, the Generation Equality Forum, convened by UN Women, launched the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality (TIGE). The Coalition provided a number of “tactics” to solve these issues by 2026.  

For one, improving access to services and digital learning tools with the aim of strengthening universal digital literacy. Giving girls and women access to these tools will counter stereotypes by making it clear to everyone that they can be just as digitally capable as their male counterparts.   

Another measure to be taken is to increase investments in feminist technology and innovation by 50% and support women’s leadership as innovators, thereby better responding to the urgent needs of women and girls.  

Finally, continuously measuring inclusion and diversity is tactically important in making sure that the world is nationally as well as globally on the right track regarding women and girls in technology and science. 




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