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How to close the gender gap in Stemm subjects; A nationwide drive is under way in Wales to make science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine more appealing to students of all ages. But there is a significant lack of representation among women, as Hilary Lappin-Scott and Geertje van Keulen explain.

AS the summer is almost upon us, it's time to welcome Soapbox Science to Swansea. The city's Bay area will provide the perfect setting for women scientists to share their research from sandy soapboxes with passing joggers, cyclists and families.

This year's event features 16 women at the very forefront of science and technology in Wales, talking about their research, reaching out to people and bringing science to life.

As two female Swansea University scientists whose "day jobs" are the university's pro vice-chancellor and associate professor in the Institute of Life Sciences, we support Soapbox Science and initiatives like it as there is a very real need to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (Stemm) and challenge the myth that it's men that become mathematicians or engineers.

According to Women in Science and Engineering (Wise), just 13% of workers in Stemm industries in the UK are women. The major gender gap that persists nationally and internationally is a result of various obstacles that prevent or discourage women studying or working in Stemm, which include: Gender stereotyping of Stemm subjects; The male/female pay gap; Gender bias in Stemm careers; | And the career impact of having a family. Wales is facing its own gender equality challenges as highlighted recently by Professor Laura McAllister who said that "the truth is that our senior echelons of power and influence are a closed shop to all but the most persistent women in Wales".

The combination of few girls choosing to study science at a higher level with a lower number of enthusiastic science teachers, especially true for physics teaching in Wales, is worrying.

And it is this situation that could impact on the ability of the nation to progress and compete in scientific and technological fields globally.

At Swansea University, we are doing a great deal of work to try to combat this issue by creating a supportive and inclusive environment. At grass-roots level we have a local chapter of ScienceGrrl, now further embedded in the SwanStemWoMen group, which helps to raise awareness of the key issues for girls and women around Stemm subjects through workshops and blogs.

We also work closely with the Wales-based charity Chwarae Teg, whose Agile Nation and Agile Nation 2 projects are actively addressing gender imbalance across nine different sectors by supporting employers across Wales who are committed to providing sustainable, fair and progressive work practices.

Furthermore, Swansea University has recently signed a pledge with Swansea council that will see both organisations working more closely together than ever to help generate economic growth, create more jobs, improve education and promote a culture of enterprise and innovation.

One of the areas of focus is to get more girls and women interested, trained and employed in Stemm subjects in the region.

At a national level, the university is a member of the Equality Challenge Unit's Athena Swan project, which works to support women working in Stemm and promotes science and technology Stemm subjects and careers to girls and young women.

Also we sincerely hope that the first phase of Swansea University's new Bay Science and Innovation Campus offering world-class facilities, which is due to open in September, will draw talented women scientists to work and study there, and inspire younger girls to take up Stemm subjects.

So this summer, when crowds gather in Swansea Bay to watch these wonderful women scientists from Wales discussing research in areas as diverse as solar power, soil carbon and snails, the need will be highlighted for further effective strategic policy decisions, nationally and internationally that will bridge this Stemm gender gap.

Soapbox Science Swansea will be at the 360 Beach and Watersports Cafe on Saturday between midday and 4pm.

Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott is pro vice-chancellor of Swansea University, while Dr Geertje van Keulen is associate professor at Swansea University and lead organiser of Soapbox Science Swansea

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 4, 2015
Words:671
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