I had to root around a bit to find the creative woman behind Women Rock Science, the fascinating Tumblr site that tells the stories of women and girls in science. Fortunately, The Planetary Society spilled the beans and introduced me to Hadiza Mohammed. She is a civil and sustainability engineer in London, and she is determined to both increase the number of girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and prod men and boys into asking why they are so absent.
That is a worthwhile goal. Women are still woefully underrepresented in those fields. A study published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA pointed out gender bias in academic institutions. In a double-blind study, researchers asked faculty members to rate candidates for a laboratory manager position. They randomly assigned male or female names to the applications. Both male and female faculty consistently ranked those with female names lower than those with male names. They suggested lower starting salaries and offered less career mentoring. That attitude reflects cultural beliefs that carry over into classrooms and affect hiring decisions when graduates apply for positions, as well as how they rise in the ranks.
Young women with a scientific bent need role models and mentors. They need to know about women who carved paths in fields once closed to them, about active and accomplished women in STEM today and about the generation of young female scientists now coming of age. They need to be able to envision career opportunities if they decide to focus on one of the STEM fields.
This is where Women Rock Science comes in. Wandering around the Tumblr site, I found many inspiring examples, including:
- Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter ever known, who made her first discovery in 1811, at the age of 12
- Melba Roy Mouton, who graduated from Howard University in 1950, started working for NASA in 1959, and worked her way up to the position of Assistant Chief of Research Programmes at NASA’s Trajectory and Geodynamics Decision
- Emmy Noether, godmother of modern physics whose work was groundbreaking, though she was denied pay for eight years because she was a woman
- Vera Rubin, who proved the existence of dark matter, the invisible substance that keeps the universe from flying apart
- Teenager Maitreyee Joshee who has developed an app that allows the blind to navigate their environments
- Sushma Verma, who graduated from high school at 7, from university at 13, and started her masters degree in microbiology the same year, thanks to an impoverished father who sold his land to pay her tuition
Hadiza Mohammed is giving hope to upcoming generations of women who dream of entering STEM fields. Many barriers must fall, and awareness is one of the ways of breaking them down.