Last December, Donna Strickland became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics in 55 years. Today, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it’s more important than ever to celebrate Donna’s achievement.
But can we imagine a world in which the recent headlines had been worded differently? What if instead being seen as a ‘woman’ first, Donna was simply described as an excellent scientist? I wish her gender was irrelevant, that it didn’t have to be mentioned at all – but on days like today, it should be.
As a female leader within a global science-based company, I welcome the annual celebration with mixed emotions. While we should be proud of our progress and continue to empower women around us, our fascination with the ‘femaleness’ of our current and future scientists highlights how we still have a long way to go in closing the science gender gap.
The glass ceiling of science
Since the establishment of the Nobel Prizes in 1901, there have been only 20 female Laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine – equivalent to only 3.3% of the total Laureates in these scientific disciplines. This figure is concerning – both because it highlights that a vast pool of potential talent that has already gone untapped, and because it underlines that young female scientists face greater challenges in their development.
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