By Michael Ramírez
The gender gap in the field of science and technology persist in 2018, as women continue to face barriers that prevent them from participating fully in the scientific career. Despite this, the academic community has made a great effort to promote the inclusion of women in science, and their participation has increased enormously.
Last March, on International Women’s Day, CONACYT’s National System of Researchers (SNI), reported that it has more than 27,000 scientists, but only 36 percent of them are women.
Although this number represents a clear increase in female participation in the field of knowledge, there are still great inequalities and stereotypes; men predominate in areas such as Engineering, Natural Sciences, Agronomy, Veterinary and Technology, while women stand out only in areas such as Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education.
Ángeles Domínguez and Luz María Alonso, two outstanding researchers from Tecnológico de Monterrey, reflect about this and express their opinion on the challenge faced by women in the scientific field, and on the false premise that they are better equipped for disciplines such as arts and humanities than for hard sciences.
In the end, both professors agree that the scientific career is not a competition between men and women, and they call for inclusion, for teamwork and for complementing the abilities of each other, for the benefit of knowledge.
Ángeles Domínguez points out that, although the gap between men and women of science has narrowed, gender stereotypes persist because scientific education is still permeated by machismo. So much so, that society tends to justify many habits and customs, an example of that is the idea that a girl does not do well in mathematics because that subject “is not for girls”.
“I do not want to sound pro-women all the time, but I would like more equity and inclusion in the education of sciences, machismo is so pervasive in education that we have trouble calling a woman engineer or physicist, because we are not used to it. We need to change our vocabulary. We have to consciously start changing those habits”, declared Professor Domínguez.
She recalls that there were no specific games for girls or boys in her family. “All of us could participate in anything we wanted”, she says. In fact, she always enjoyed and mastered numbers. “For me, playing in the summer meant math and puzzles, and with my brothers there were no games for girls or boys, we all played equally”.
For that reason, when she started studying high school, her trajectory was already defined towards applied mathematics and physics. She holds a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Syracuse, New York.
Currently Dr. Domínguez is a researcher at Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Escuela de Humanidades y Educación, and professor at the Escuela de Ingeniería y Ciencias. She is working on two research projects, funded by CONACYT, regarding science and gender issues. It is through those projects that she aims to contribute to more equity in science and technology in secondary schools, and she strives to empower students while urging them to take ownership of knowledge.
“In the end, it is not that we all have to be scientists, it is about training our sensibility to appreciate the world from a different angle, a scientific angle, which will allow us to be more conscious, devoted and knowledgeable of the world around us. And any science field could be interesting; my passion is mathematics, but yours can be biology”.
Professor Domínguez, who received the Mujer Tec Award in the category of Science and Technology and is also member of the Mexican System of Researchers (SNI), said she works with secondary school teachers with the intention of sharing strategies and ideas that allow them to promote science in their classes, be it physics, chemistry, biology or mathematics. “We are surveying students and teachers about what activities they have at home, the roles of boys and girls, if they go to museums, summer courses or other habits. Unfortunately, on many occasions the things we learn are already tinged with stereotypes as we grow up”.
“We do not seek to create scientists, we strive to generate an appreciation for science. We want to find what makes students to let themselves be guided by these disciplines, and a first step is to see science and technology differently”, she concluded.
For Luz María Alonso, women who dedicate themselves to science have to work twice as hard as men; either to barely follow in their fellow researchers’ steps, or because in addition to their professional career, they must comply with housework, an activity normally assigned to women, thus performing a double workday.
“It is a complicated issue, because in Mexico, although change is palpable and gender equality has been discussed, the truth is that there is still work to be done. I think that is more complicated for a woman who gets involved in this career to balance her family life. Men, on the other hand, have it easier, because normally it is women who take care of the children, whether we like to say it or not. This allows a man to dedicate 12 or even 24 hours to science. But not a woman”.
For Dr. Alonso these factors contribute in limiting female participation in science, given that it is a work intensive profession and demands a great deal of time, that is why these areas tend to be men dominated fields.
“This career does not have to be a competition. Men and women must complement each other. If you are already proving that you can be here, and you are willing to work twice as hard to be on the same page as your colleagues, then we can start to really be a team. There are many men who do take us seriously, who value our professional achievements and I think we have to take advantage of their inclusion and fellowship”.
Luz María Alonso is a research professor at Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Escuela de Ingeniería y Ciencias. Her lines of research are neuroengineering, human-machine interfaces, and the analysis of electrophysiological patterns.
In 2016 she received recognition for leading one of Tecnológico de Monterrey’s “Projects that are Transforming Mexico”, consisting of the design and implementation of an acoustic therapy to treat tinnitus, a disease that causes certain people to perceive a buzz or a permanent and annoying noise.
In addition, she has been awarded the prestigious L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, which seeks to improve the visibility of women in science, through the recognition of women who have made important contributions to scientific progress.
Both researchers agree that in Mexico, institutional policies related to gender equality in science have improved, as well as participation of female scientists in decision-making. However, there is still a long way to go in Mexico and around the world; just keep an eye on the statistics of the Nobel Prize: of the 896 prizes awarded throughout its history, only 5 percent have been for women.