A Global Approach to the Gender Gap in Mathematical, Computing, and Natural Sciences
The mathematical and natural sciences have long benefited from the participation of excellent women scientists. However, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the percentage of women scientists remains shockingly low, and barriers to women’s participation persist, leading to a gender gap at all levels and across all continents. It is against this backdrop that in 2016, the International Mathematical Union (IMU), through its Committee for Women in Mathematics, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), supported by nine other ISC member unions and other partners, launched a project on the gender gap in science.
The project comprised three main areas of research: a global survey of scientists, a data-backed study on publications, and development of a database of good practice. The global survey asked scientists, both male and female, to reflect on their career experiences and any challenges they had encountered. It received responses from over 30,000 people in more than 150 countries, finding clear evidence for a gender gap in science.
The project’s second task was to develop an online tool to investigate the gender imbalance of scientific publications by women and men, across countries and fields of research. Shockingly, the study found that despite an increase in the proportion of women authors over time, women scientists were not publishing in top journals any more frequently than in the past, indicating that a gender barrier persists.
Finally, the project developed a ‘database of good practices for girls and young women, parents, and organizations’, to curate initiatives from all around the world that encourage the involvement of women in science. The database was made available on the IMU website in 2019, and is expected to expand in coming years.
At its final conference in late 2019, the project team reviewed its preliminary results, suggesting four strategies in order to inspire young women to pursue careers in scientific fields:
- Engage families and communities in promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers to girls, especially when these careers are contrary to cultural expectations and norms.
- Engage girls and women in exploring socio-scientific issues.
- Promote social support for women and girls, such as peer networks and mentoring by more experienced STEM researchers or professionals.
- Develop women and girls’ STEM leadership, advocacy and communication skills.
The project’s final report was published on 11 February 2020, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Plans to continue work in the coming years, and to maintain accessibility to the interactive resources that have been created, are currently under discussion.
“We are happy with what we were able to do until now, but the long-term plan is to produce useful tools capable of living after the end of the project.”Marie-Françoise Roy, International Mathematical Union
Climate Change Education Across the Curricula, Across the Globe
“TROP ICSU has brought new innovation on how to integrate climate change education into different disciplines at different levels.”Raymond Ktebaka, Uganda
Education is one of the most critical elements in the global response to mitigate climate change. The quality of life for future generations and the planet itself is largely dependent on the quality of education provided for today’s students. This imperative is what drives the Climate Change Education Across the Curricula Across the Globe (TROP ICSU) project, launched in 2017 by the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) and the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA), in partnership with other international unions, national academies of several countries, national research centres, and United Nations agencies.
TROP ICSU aimed to integrate climate change education into the formal education system worldwide, in order to equip the next generation with the skills and knowledge required for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Over the course of the project, around 150 teaching tools for educators were created, as well as more than 65 free and easy-to-access lesson plans for use by teachers across the world. The project team also conducted 14 workshops for 650 high school and undergraduate-level teachers in nine countries across the globe, and four workshops for climate experts, which brought together around 50 people in total.
During 2019, TROP ICSU featured in several UN fora, including the STI Forum and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. TROP ICSU also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
TROP ICSU has significant plans for the future, including the intention to translate its lesson plans into as many languages as possible, and to create video guides as additional lesson planning resources for teachers.
Lightsources for Africa, the Americas, Asia and Middle East Project
Advanced light sources (AdLS) have revolutionized research in many fields of science and technology. They are key to research frontiers in numerous disciplines and industries and have become prime enablers of scientific and technological progress and innovation.
“AdLS facilities promote multidisciplinary collaboration with the wider global community, while promoting science diplomacy and peace at large.”Michele Zema, Executive Outreach Officer of the International Union of Crystallography and member of the LAAAMP Executive Committee
In 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) received funding for a project to enhance advanced light source research and crystallographic sciences in Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and it is having a marked impact in the communities that it is serving.
At the outset, the Lightsources for Africa, the Americas, Asia and Middle East Project (LAAAMP) identified five key tasks: to conduct a survey of crystallography and AdLS users in the targeted regions and develop a strategic plan for each; to send experienced AdLS users to the targeted regions to support capacity building and to partner in the launch of IUCr–UNESCO–LAAAMP OpenLabs, which is a network of operational crystallography laboratories in developing countries; to advocate for science and science education by developing and sharing non-technical information explaining the benefits derived from crystallography and AdLS research and training; to support the mobility and training of researchers through its FAST (faculty-student teams) grant scheme; and to develop strategic plans for the implementation of new AdLS in regions where they do not currently exist.
The LAAAMP brochure Advanced Light Sources and Crystallography: Tools of Discovery and Innovation is now available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. Hundreds of copies were shared over the course of the project, and a Portuguese version is in development.
During 2019, LAAAMP also launched a crystallography training program in Benin called X-TechLab, hosting roughly 100 students per year, and provided unique opportunities for approximately 50 faculty and students from low- and middle-income countries to train at various advanced light source facilities around the world.
The future is bright for LAAAMP, which has launched a fundraising campaign in order to continue its activities beyond the initial grant-funded period.
Photo: Idaho National Laboratory (CC-BY-2.0)