Women leadership in science vital

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Female students and employees are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK 

Over the years, the empowerment of women has increasingly been recognised as a critical aspect of social progress and sustainable development. This is especially evident in the field of science, where their leadership plays a pivotal role in encouraging more girls to embrace science-related careers and achieve sustainable development through economic prosperity, social justice, and environmental integrity.

As the world marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this month, the importance of acknowledging the active role that they play in society once again comes to the fore. In the face of calamities such as drought and disease, women tend to be the most disproportionately affected among vulnerable groups, making their participation in the sustainable development agenda crucial.

By leveraging the unique skills and talents that women bring to the field, we can go beyond advocating for equity and further view their involvement in society as a strategic obligation that will catalyse the delivery of a holistic sustainable future.

It is worth noting that investing in women and girls to succeed in the sciences does not mean elevating them at the expense of men. Rather, it is a call to include women in decision-making processes and tap into their talent pool for the advancement of science-related ideologies that will benefit everyone in the long run.

According to the World Economic Forum, female students and employees are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). This is largely due to gender stereotypes, male-dominated cultures, lack of role models, and math anxiety. To address this disparity, we need to incorporate interventions that encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM by demystifying unconscious biases and challenging the notion that men have a better chance of excelling in these fields.

To bridge the existing STEM gap, we must have more women taking up leadership roles in these disciplines, as they are still underrepresented. Additionally, advocating for the provision of educational resources to help the next generation of women in STEM thrive is crucial.

Data from the Engineers Board of Kenya shows that only 8.4 per cent of women were registered as professional engineers as of 2022. In sub-Saharan Africa, women researchers constituted a mere 18 percent to 33 percent as of 2020, highlighting the urgent need for their increased representation and inclusion in science.

Kenya has already made significant strides in making STEM accessible to students in high schools and tertiary institutions. However, more can be done to develop STEM for sustainability. This can be achieved by fostering an education system that emphasises STEM competency and social consciousness, which will play a critical role in enhancing success towards achieving sustainability.

By nurturing children who are well-rounded with both educational credence and a sense of social responsibility, we can equip them with the right knowledge and skills to become trailblazers of positive transformation in the world. Empowering young girls in STEM involves more than just providing educational opportunities; it requires instilling confidence and reinforcing the notion that they are equal to the task and just as capable as their male counterparts.

By fostering a supportive environment that values and nurtures their abilities, we can inspire a generation of young girls to pursue science with the assurance that their contributions are invaluable and essential.

Confidence-building initiatives, mentorship programmes, and showcasing successful women in STEM can serve as catalysts, reinforcing the belief that gender should never be a barrier to aspiring young minds.

Through personalised narratives, young girls can then begin to embrace these subjects perceived as "hard" and exert effort in becoming the women they admire. This enhanced sense of identity paves the way for future scientists, engineers, researchers and innovators.

The writer is the Head of Talent, Culture and Inclusion at BAT Kenya. 

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