To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke to some of our female academics about what we can do to increase female participation in mathematics and create a space for women and girls to flourish.
In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly declared 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015.
Here in the School of Mathematical Sciences, we are surrounded by incredible women and girls. They are our students, teachers, friends, colleagues, classmates, mentors and supervisors. To mark International Women and Girls in Science today, we spoke to some of our female academics about participation in maths, role models and allyship.
How can your male colleagues be good allies? Dr Katy Clough, STFC Ernest Rutherford Research FellowI would say to men (and women, who are not automatically good allies to other women): don’t underestimate how much your kindness and belief can lift up the people around you. At important moments in my career, several men stepped in and really supported me, gave me a chance or just said explicitly that they believed in me. I am not sure that this was always 100% justified (although I like to think it was sometimes!), but often their belief became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I did end up meriting it.
Whilst I think we should aim to be kind and supportive in all our interactions, underrepresented groups in STEM do need more support than others. Being in the minority creates additional barriers and stress in your day-to-day experiences, so recognise that it is not unfair to have some "positive bias” to counteract this. Equality can’t logically mean treating everyone exactly the same, but it must mean treating everyone according to their needs.
What advice do you have for girls considering a career in STEM? Dr Ginestra Bianconi, Professor of Applied Mathematics
Mathematics is a universal language that transcends national and sociological boundaries. Mathematics is for everybody that can understand it so just believe in yourself and enjoy it! Like sports, mathematics requires a combination of discipline and personal judgment/independent thinking. To the girls wishing to become mathematicians, my advice is to focus on the discipline (the beauty of the subject, the fun of solving problems and understanding new results) and to study with persistence, passion and joy.
If you can, exercise your curiosity expanding on what you learn in your courses reading mathematics books, and share your enthusiasm on the subject discussing with your friends. If you build solid foundations, then in your career there will be moments of creativity when you will become part of this great collective endeavour of discovering hidden gems of this field.
How can we increase female participation in Maths at university? Dr Claudia Garetto, Reader in Mathematics and EDI Lead
We can increase participation by providing our students with female role models. For instance, we can encourage girls to study mathematics by planning outreach activities led by female mathematicians. I still remember my Maths teacher in secondary school and how I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
Have you been involved in any Queen Mary initiatives to encourage more girls to consider studying maths at university? Dr Lei Fang, Lecturer in Mathematics
Yes! I contribute to Girls in Maths, which is a taster day run twice a year. The event includes a couple of taster lectures, a talk from a student about transitioning to university, and a careers talk. It's for girls in year 12 who are thinking about what to study and which universities to apply to. The next Girls in Maths event is happening on April 21st.
Who were your female role models when you were starting out? Dr Rosemary Harris, Reader in Applied Mathematics
Many of my role models were/are academics (not just female!) demonstrating how to be successful in excellent research whilst not neglecting family or other priorities. I've also always admired those who treat people around them with equal respect, regardless of seniority or gender.
What makes a good mathematician? Dr Michèle Levi, STFC Ernest Rutherford Research Fellow
Attention to detail, and that's something that women are very good at!
A big thank you to Katy, Claudia, Lei, Ginestra, Rosemary and Michèle for speaking to us today and sharing your thoughts and advice.