Greater visibility is beneficial not only for practicing women scientists and engineers but also for future women scientists and engineers. It provides role models that are important for attracting girls into science and technology.
A 2004 survey by the Royal Society of London showed that just over half of the 1,000 scientists and engineers surveyed had been influenced in their choice of career by a visit to a scientist’s or engineer’s workplace, and that nearly a quarter had been influenced by a scientist or engineer visiting their school. The survey was part of a study of the impact of role model programmes. The good practice guide Taking a Leading Role produced as part of this study is available on the website royalsociety.org.
Similarly, in the United Kingdom, as well as in North America and elsewhere, university outreach programmes targeted specifically at girls give them positive impressions of science and technology in higher education. Open days, women-in-science events, residential courses, science clubs, competitions, and other mechanisms convey the message that science and technology are open to women. Emphasis should not only be on career possibilities but also on the fact that those careers are professionally rewarding and comfortably remunerated.
Other programmes in this vein, such as the U.K.’s Partnership Grant Scheme, often cater to girls and boys alike. But special attention— stressing visibility of women scientists in particular —is focused on girls to show them that they can be successful in science. The Canadian Pathmakers programme sends women S&T students at local universities to visit elementary and secondary schools in Ottawa (www.carleton.ca). Since Pathmakers and other programmes, such as the Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering, started in 1986, the enrollment of women in engineering courses in Canadian universities has doubled to 24 percent while enrollments in chemical and environmental engineering are approaching parity.
A priority for academies and government policymakers should be to develop training procedures and standards for role-model programmes like these in order that they be conveniently replicable —sparing university and community counterparts elsewhere from having to raise scarce resources to reinvent the wheel. Such policy efforts must be supported by well-conducted and -documented longitudinal research, unfunded in the past, on the long-term effect of role-model programmes (Vlaeminke et al.,1997).
Meanwhile, it is important to appeal to girls directly and engage them by connecting with their pre-existing interests and culture. Working with girls themselves has already produced websites, designed and developed using bright and lively clubs, such as the U.S. Engineergirl initiative (www.Engineergirl.com), the National Academies’ I was wondering site (www.iwaswondering.org), and the U.K. Computer Clubs for Girls site (www.cc4g.net).
Members of the IAC