When you think of the world’s greatest scientists, who do you think of? Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or maybe Charles Darwin?
What about Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1903 for her discovery of two elements through radioactivity? Or Rosalin Franklin, whose work led to James Watson and Francis Crick’s understanding of DNA?
According to a new report by international non-profit group Girls Who Code, one in two Canadians cannot name a single female scientist or engineer.
In fact, 82 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they picture a man when they imagine a computer scientist.
The report, released on Friday to mark International Women’s Day, underscores how much work is still to be done in encouraging young girls to pursue their interests in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.
“What this data really shows is that women have a lingering crisis of confidence when it comes to their abilities in computing, and that it started in early childhood,” said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.
“Men were nearly twice as likely to dream of becoming a computer scientist when they were a kid. In fact, boys were more likely to even understand what computer science was – 39 per cent compared to 26 per cent of girls – and that means somewhere along the way, we started teaching our boys about computer science, but not our girls.”
Roughly 42 per cent of female respondents said they believe it’s easier for men to break into the industry – a notion that 31 per cent of men agreed with.
According to the report, the perception of who has an easier chance of being successful in STEM-related work starts young. A mere nine per cent of women said they had dreamed of being a computer scientist when they were a child, compared to 17 per cent of men.
Girls Who Code, which launched in Canada in November, hosts 30 after-school clubs that are free for girls ages 13 to 18 interested in learning about computers and programming.
Chief information officer Katherin Wetmur said it’s programs like these that break through barriers hindering girls from being exposed to coding.
“We’ve made strides in the technology sector toward closing the gender gap, but there is still a great deal of work to do,” she said.
Other women who have pioneered scientific discoveries
In honour of International Women’s Day, and for those who are also unable to think of a female scientist or engineer, here’s a few who have made some of the biggest impacts in our understanding of the world.
Renowned for her work with chimpanzees and a champion of animal rights
Sally Ride and Roberta Bondar
The first American woman in space in 1983, and the Canadian woman in 1992
Proved that dark matter existed in the universe
An English mathematician who wrote one of the very first computer programs
A biochemist and pharmacologist who developed the first drugs to treat leukemia
Currently helping NASA (in her 20s) to build one of the biggest rockets ever made
For more famous female scientists, click here.