11 February is the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an occasion to remind the general public, policy-makers and scientists all around the world that much still has to be done to dismantle gender stereotypes.
Stronger efforts are needed to encourage girls to consider a science education – in particular in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-related fields – and to guarantee female students the same career opportunities as men.
According to UNESCO data*(1), only 35% of all female students in higher education concentrate on STEM-related fields and 28% of researchers worldwide are women. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in information and communication technology (3% of all female students), natural sciences, mathematics and statistics (5%), and engineering, manufacturing and construction (8%).
At CERN, we have a responsibility to support and promote diversity and inclusion in science, and we, as an Organization, have to keep doing better. Just one illustration: about 19.5%(2) of CERN’s members of the personnel are women, a number that we need to increase in order to reflect the society we serve and to maintain our standards of excellence: diversity, in all its aspects, and inclusion are prerequisites for the best possible science, as emphasised in the 2020 Update of the European Strategy for Particle Physics.
Gender equality is a key part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, based around a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Science institutes, and CERN among them, have an important contribution to make in advancing this agenda, not just through their research activities, but also by making science a more diverse and inclusive environment where all can contribute and thrive.
Much progress has been made in establishing formal frameworks that enable diversity and inclusion. But frameworks alone are insufficient. We need to change mindsets. And to do so, the best way is to speak directly to young people, girls and boys, to give them opportunities, through role models, to project themselves into scientific jobs. In this spirit, CERN launched in 2017 the initiative “Women and Girls in Science and Technology”, joined by the University of Geneva and EPFL in 2019. This year, for the fifth edition of the programme, no less than 41 women scientists and engineers answered the call for volunteers: last week, they visited 66 classrooms (some physically, some via videoconference) in France and Switzerland to present their jobs and career paths to 1367 children between the ages of 7 and 15.
Thanks to this kind of initiative, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science will, one day, no longer be necessary. Until then, we must be proactive and consciously work towards gender equality and towards diversity and inclusion in the broadest sense.
(1)See the report published by UNESCO in 2017
(2)CERN personnel statistics as at 31 December 2019