How Women Can Smash The Gender Gap In The Science Industry

Why are there so few women working in science? The answer to that question is complex. Partly it’s because they’re paid so little – studies have shown that they receive thousands of dollars less per year than male colleagues in similar roles. Also, it’s because they often face a sexist environment, with colleagues not taking their papers or their lectures as seriously as men’s and often not even using their proper titles. And partly it’s because, from a very early age, girls start thinking of science subjects as something for boys only. What can be done about that? How can more women get into science careers?

Because the prejudice against women in science starts early, solutions need to be introduced early too. New programs in schools are aiming to encourage girls to study science and give them the confidence they need to apply for science job interviews. The hope is that this will also encourage some of them to go into academia, where networks are developing through which women can help each other. Having more women involved in academic research is vital to increase respect for women as intellectual contributors in the long term.

One of the most exciting areas of science to work in today is pharmaceuticals. Erol Onel, former president of Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc, entered the field through urology and pharmacology, and it’s possible to get involved via either a medical or a biochemical route. Onel, known for his work on bupivacaine liposome injectable suspension, has noted that a lot of women enter the profession but not enough stay and reach top positions. There are now efforts afoot in the industry to make it more flexible so that women, who remain the majority of caregivers, can better accommodate career breaks and complex schedules.

It’s a less glamorous area than many, so it’s often overlooked, but agricultural science is an area on which all our lives depend. From soil chemistry to the development of environmentally friendly pesticides, there’s a lot of interesting work to be done and major ideas are currently being challenged as monocultures run into trouble and different approaches to land management come into practice. The best routes to a job in this sector are through biochemistry or geology.

Petroleum Geology
If you’re looking for a well-paid career in an area that’s full of increasingly interesting challenges, you could consider petroleum geology. Combining elements of geology, chemistry and physical engineering, this field is moving in increasingly interesting directions as it takes in traditional methods of oil and gas extraction plus newer approaches like fracking. Work varies from the predominantly lab-based and theoretical to hands-on activity out on rigs, and if you’re looking for an environmentally friendly option, you could take up a position in spill management.

Forensic Science
Thanks in large part to shows like CSI, forensic science is an area that has seen an increase in interest from young people over recent years, and it has been comparatively successful in recruiting women. Although it’s not quite as exciting as the shows suggest, it can be fascinating work, and there is a puzzle-solving element to it which many people find fascinating. Almost any science degree will do as a starting point when followed by a forensics course, and most forensic technicians go on to develop a specialty.

With big questions now being asked about the impact of climate change on ocean currents and what that could mean for localized temperatures, storm patterns and coastal flooding, skilled hydrologists have never been in greater demand. Most people come into this area through physics, but geology, biology and meteorological science can also be good starting points. Most jobs are lab-based and focus on analysis but if you really want to do something different you could work in a remote observation station in a part of the world few other people ever get to see.

Despite the big announcement made some years ago about the cracking of the human genome, the truth is that we still know very little about what most genes do or how they interact with one another and with environmental factors, so there is a vast amount of work to be done in this rapidly expanding field. It has huge potential when it comes to treating illness and extending quality years of life, and it can also aid in the development of disease-resistant crops and even enhanced crops with the potential to prevent famines. Most people enter this area through biology or chemistry with a specialist master’s degree.

Space Tech
One of the first areas of science most of us get excited about as children is space tech. Although women have never been accorded the same opportunities as men when it comes to actually getting out there, there are an increasing number working at the design and development levels, with biologists now needed alongside physicists and chemists. It’s a field full of new challenges where the work requires patience and focus but where imagination also counts for a lot.

With so many possibilities out there, there’s no reason for women to be shut out. Science matters for everyone and women can contribute to study and practice at the highest levels.

Photo by Kazoka | Shutterstock

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