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Women in STEM 2020

Funders must support underrepresented groups into STEM

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Dr Ruth Freeman

Director Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that science and innovation, the ability to find solutions to the problems we face, have never been more important.

Over the coming years we will continue to face challenges – whether it is finding solutions to Climate Change or Food Security. As we debate and consider solutions to these issues it is important that everyone is included in that conservation.

At Science Foundation Ireland we have done research to assess how people in Ireland feel about science. The group that remains most disconnected is girls from less economically favourable backgrounds. So, as funders, while we may congratulate ourselves on having initiatives to attract girls to study STEM subjects, or to attract and retain female academics we should never forget that many barriers remain.

Students need to be able to identify with role models

Role models are critically important; our research in education tells us that students will not select courses if they cannot personally identify with the type of people they associate with that area. We need lots of different role models to be visible and to show the next generation that they can also follow their dreams in science – that everyone is entitled to contribute ideas and provide solutions.

The group that remains most disconnected is girls from less economically favourable backgrounds.

At Science Foundation Ireland, we support many amazing women researchers; much progress has been made in recent years but there is still so much more to do. Through our early career programmes and, more recently, the SFI Frontiers for the Future programme we aim to increase the number of excellent women researchers in our academic institutions.

Exclusion goes beyond just being female

But exclusion is not just an issue for women; we must also remember that there many under-represented groups in our society that are fighting to be given an equal opportunity to have a career in STEM – people of colour, those with disabilities, migrants, those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and the LGBTQ+ community are all under-represented. We need to work together to open the doors to all groups, and insist that change happens.

We need to ensure that all members of our society can contribute ideas – inclusive thinking means that we are far more likely to find good solutions to the challenges we face now and will need to address in the future.

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