International Women's Day 2018: #PressforProgress

Where would we be without female scientists? Well, for a start, we may not even be connected on computers reading this – Hollywood film star and inventor Hedy Lamarr was the woman who laid the groundwork for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.

Just over a month ago, the UNESCO-recognized International Day of Women and Girls in Science was commemorated on February 11. A big hit this year, the #womeninscience hashtag was trending on both Twitter and Facebook.

And, with International Women’s Day (IWD) this 8 March, women everywhere are hoping the ball will keep rolling in the weeks and months ahead – tying in with this year’s IWD theme: #PressforProgress. This call continues a strong global momentum for gender parity, following IWD’s #PledgeforParity campaign in 2016 and 2017’s #BeBoldforChange theme.

At TÜV SÜD, our expertise in engineering drives innovation in the space of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), also known as Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft, Technik (MINT) in Germany. And although the number of women involved in STEM is still lower than many would hope, there is now a sense that a real and strong movement to #PressforProgress in the STEM industry is being made.

Pushing for parity in STEM

Gender equality is vital for all industries. But STEM, in particular, knows it still has a very long way to go if women are to attain full parity with male scientists and engineers.

Interestingly, although stereotypes still abound about men being naturally better at scientific matters, nothing could be further from the truth. Researchers Stoet and Geary examined a range of academic test scores from schools in 67 countries and regions. Surprisingly for some, the duo found in most areas, girls either matched boys or outperformed them in science subjects. They concluded that girls are more than capable of taking university science and mathematics courses – the problem is they often seem reluctant to enroll.

This leads to a major discrepancy in STEM. Over half the world is female, but when it comes to engineering and other science-related subjects, women are often woefully underrepresented in laboratories, hospitals and universities.

Time for change 

The gender issue goes beyond education. Evidence has shown that some women who train in STEM subjects have gone on to pursue very different career and life goals.

A groundbreaking – and still influential – study by Trautner et al in 1996 found that while women accounted for some 19 percent of North American engineering graduates, they made up for less than 3 percent of engineering faculty positions.

Things are not much better in parts of Europe. The UK, for instance, has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in the EU – a mere 8.7 percent.

But positive action can lead to rapid and important progress. Last year, British educators hit a crucial target in the effort to redress the balance. They ensured that at least 50 percent of physics GCSE (secondary education certificate) students were female. It is also encouraging to see that in the STEM field, there has been gradual but sure progress globally.

Progress in the STEM industry


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Female perspective 

STEM needs women. There can be no doubt that without women’s involvement, STEM would be much worse off. And with more female perspective, STEM would surely benefit. In many cases, STEM women have shown they have a unique ability to think outside the box, using their own firsthand knowledge as a source of inspiration. Early airbags used in cars were designed by an all-male team that overlooked women altogether during development. This resulted in avoidable deaths of female and child passengers. Women engineers introduced changes that made a difference in product safety. 

In other cases, frustration at a lack of gender equality has proven to be a source of inspiration. Since Valentina Tereshkova became the world’s first female astronaut in 1963, only 40 or so women have been to space. There have been almost 500 male astronauts. This imbalance has led aerospace engineer Claudia Kessler on a one-woman mission to address the balance. Kessler wants to launch the first German woman into space by 2020.

In many areas, such as healthcare, the need to get more women involved is paramount. After all, medical care often needs to be tailored to gender. Engineer Surbhi Sarna, for instance, channeled her own experiences of painful ovarian cysts into the development of a pioneering new way of detecting ovarian cancer. But statistics show change is being made in many areas. Per the EU, 60 percent or more of all physicians in Romania, Slovenia and Croatia are now women, with figures closer to 75 percent in Estonia and Latvia.

Corporate commitment

The Press for Progress initiative can only succeed if everyone gets behind it – from individuals to companies working in the STEM field. Some 30 percent of TÜV SÜD’s employees are women, but we are looking to expand the number of females who hold senior positions at TÜV SÜD – with the Gender Balance corporate initiative a part of the company’s diversity goals.

Gabriele Sommer, TÜV SÜD’s Global Head of Human Resources says, “A diverse workforce makes us much more attractive as an employer. It also increases our competitiveness. We have to offer equal opportunities for everybody.”

Sommer adds that one of the HR department’s key focusses is eliminating unconscious bias. The company, she says, is looking to encourage a more open approach to its recruitment and promotion drives, and has developed a video series to address the issue. Sommer explains that breaking down stereotypes is essential in promoting positive change throughout the company – and the greater STEM community.

Providing women with the belief they need to thrive could prove vital. Combining corporate-level support with the ambitions of STEM-trained women will inevitably lead to a brighter – and fairer – future. Liz Fendt, Head of Global Marketing, says “What has made it easy to work and develop myself for TÜV SÜD is the opportunities to grow and add value to the company. I am passionate about what I do, and I know TÜV SÜD will provide the mentorship throughout my journey.”

Pledge your support and #PressforProgress at: www.internationalwomensday.com/pressforprogress


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