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Paving the way for more women in science careers

A team of EU-funded researchers investigated what factors work to maintain a gender gap for those in science and technology professions. The study highlighted the 'contribution' of stereotypes and offered practical suggestions for addressing such influences.

Climate Change and Environment

With a range of recent studies showing that gender differences are still an issue in science, the EU is focusing subsequent inquiries into what lies at the crux of the matter. Several questions are posed: Why are young people losing contact with science? What influences career choice and from what ages can this be addressed? Why has the number of science students in universities dropped? The 'Gender awareness participation process: differences in the choices of science careers' (GAPP) project investigated these and other areas through qualitative research combined with an approach to the development of new practices in science communication and education. The main goal was, in this way, to further understand and tackle striking gender differences in involvement in science and technology (S&T) in the EU. Objectives centred on understanding the loss of interest on the part of Europe’s youth - especially as related to girls, and initiating dialogue between the research community, teachers, parents, students and others to highlight the main issues and these groups’ expectations. A third objective was to develop and test various practical activities aimed at overcoming gender differences, as well as to create a deeper connection between high school students and the worlds of S&T. Study findings revealed that efforts to modify stereotypes and the perception of social roles, as influences on the training of young people, and their parents and teachers, could constitute a first step towards lessening the gender gap in S&T and its choice as a future academic and/or career path. Elements of such an approach comprise increased involvement of females in male roles in general, and more exposure to and interaction with the worlds of professional S&T, particularly with female role models. A major finding, across the six countries involved in GAPP, was that the perception of S&T confirms current stereotypes. Parents, teachers and role models influence stereotypes; changing them can be achieved through meetings with S&T professionals in a number of settings, as well as through the media, fiction and advertising, by filming interviews with young and dynamic role models, both for boys and girls. Commonly considered more difficult than the human sciences, S&T is also subject to another problem: few individuals have knowledge of the professions available in this area. As such, project participants call for ways to better share knowledge about the S&T professions, and to do so from an early age. This calls for direct participation and an approach embracing 'science and scientific careers in action'. The GAPP project’s findings and suggestions for integrating action across the scientific community, schools and society in general, made an important contribution to the issue of promoting more women in S&T on a European level.

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