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I started to be interested in the topic of the uneven presence of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) while gathering information for my PhD literature review. It became obvious that the problem does not exist solely in architecture, but that there is a much wider world of injustice towards women in professions. What I deduced from my analysis of various sources (from academic journals to Twitter trends) largely rotates around this simple concept: women in STEM are able to deal with ‘masculine’ jobs better than they can cope with the culture, values and expectations of professions created by men for men. In other words, they do not lack the technical skills required to perform that job, but rather “a whole set of properties which the male occupants normally bring to the job […] for which men have been tacitly prepared and trained as men” (Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination, 2001, pag. 62).
Women in STEM are able to deal with ‘masculine’ jobs better than they can cope with the culture, values and expectations of professions created by men for men.
Therefore, what is needed to balance the trend is not an attempt by women to fit the characteristics usually associated to certain professions, but rather to change gendered stereotypes attached to the professions themselves. Structural change always happens after great revolutions, for example after the passage from one economic system to another, after ground-breaking technical innovations, after the exploitation of newly discovered lands for materials and human workforce. And the recent entrance of women in the professional workforce should be considered as one of these revolutions. What we need to do is to adapt the system in response to our presence, in order to foster the more appropriate and useful participation of women in the professional workforce, both for their own well-being and that of society as a whole.
What is needed to balance the trend is not an attempt by women to fit the characteristics usually associated to certain professions, but rather to change gendered stereotypes attached to the professions themselves.
Furthermore, a considerable problem that reproduces the uneven presence of women in STEM is the lack of examples and role models, further discouraging younger generations of women to consider STEM jobs to be of interest. However, in the last few decades, several actions have been made to reverse this trend, especially through initiatives to advise and support young women to gravitate towards these kinds of careers. I found out about the wide presence of these initiatives from the encouraging book Women in Science, Engineering and Technology: Three Decades of UK Initiatives by Alison Phipps (2008), feminist academic and director of the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Sussex. While reading this book for my literature review I realized that I could have done something more as an architecture professional. I could have been an example, I could have made a difference for some young woman coming in my wake! Inspired, I took a look at some organizations and I discovered the presence of a university society called Robogals. Robogals – with its quirky name – was created in 2008 in Australia, and has now expanded all over the globe. Robogals is an international student-run group aimed at inspiring, engaging and empowering young women into STEM fields. They are particularly dedicated to diversity and inclusion in STEM (not only of women, but also lower class and/or ethnic minorities students), practically reached through the use of science themed workshops for young kids aged 7 to 16.
A considerable problem that reproduces the uneven presence of women in STEM is the lack of examples and role models, further discouraging younger generations of women to consider STEM jobs to be of interest.
So I started to volunteer with their regional chapter based at the University of Sussex – Robogals Sussex – which is this bunch of students (both female and male) who run workshops in schools using Lego Mindstorms robots and related EV3 coding app on Ipads, and Rasperry Pis. They come from different scientific disciplines and backgrounds, they are young and amazing, and they taught me a lot, both in terms of robots and in how to be a role model for younger versions of me.
If you are a student or a professional in scientific fields (I also joined the national STEM ambassador team, which is full of adults and professionals), I highly encourage you to consider joining one of these groups: by inspiring even only one young girl, you would have challenged the society and increased diversity and inclusion, for the better. And it’s also lots of fun!
Maria Silvia is an architect and a doctoral researcher in Sociology and Gender Studies. She is studying the gendered aspects of the profession of architecture and their implications on women in the field, and she is determined to develop strategies aimed at increasing gender equality in the architectural sector.
Maria Silvia obtained her MA in Architecture from the University of Florence (Italy), and her MSc in Social Research Methods from the University of Sussex (UK). Maria Silvia is a STEM Ambassador and a member of the Sussex Robogals, both aimed at increasing female participation in STEM sectors