Madrid (EFE).- In the careers of engineering, physics, mathematics or computer science, there is still a lack of women. Stop calling them “hard areas”, do pedagogical work from the early stages of education, also at home, and awaken a sense of curiosity are some of the keys to fostering these vocations.
Every year since 2015, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated on February 11, a day to promote equality, science and give visibility to researchers. The physicist Susana Marcos and the engineer Belén Riveiro speak with EFE about their references, stereotypes, their jobs and how to promote vocations.
And it is that, although in Spain the women enrolled in scientific careers are 49%, the majority choose studies related to health and care (71%) -such as medicine or biology-, compared to technical degrees such as engineering (25% ), physics (17%), mathematics (14%) or computer science (12%).
This gender gap, which data from the Ministry of Education reveals each year, begins at school, where only 4.2% of 15-year-old adolescents say they are interested in studying one of these careers.
Ending this discrimination is not only a matter of social justice, but also economic, because careers in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are the best paid and because expelling half the population from these professions is a loss close to 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to Education.
Physicist Susana Marcos (Salamanca, 1970) was awarded the “Leonardo Torres Quevedo” National Research Award in 2019 for her contribution to optical and photonic engineering, and she defends that technical careers should stop being called “hard areas, which already seems to give them a negative connotation, making them seem hard to sink your teeth into.”
Questioning and critical sense
«In general, I believe that science education, and all subjects (for girls and boys) should be oriented from the sense of curiosity, questioning and critical sense, three main attributes in a scientist, and what stimulated in class, it was what attracted me to a scientific career».
Marcos, now at the University of Rochester in the United States, would also stop presenting the subjects in a watertight manner and would avoid confining the students to very specific areas too soon.
«You have to give yourself room to explore what each one is passionate about, be it science or other disciplines. In the end, innovation and progress arise from the connection of fields and ideas; in my case physics, ophthalmology, psychology, neuroscience, biomedical engineering».
Belén Riveiro (Cotobade, 1983), who won the first edition of the Matilde Ucelai National Research Award for Young People in 2022 for solving current challenges in structural engineering, agrees with Marcos: the solution comes from the early stages.
Regarding the fact that girls feel less capable after the age of six, according to some studies, Riveiro points out that they confirm that “all people feel the same when we are born and therefore I believe that we must break with all those dynamics that They come to modify our vision of ourselves and our behaviors.
«Today -adds Riveiro- the social context is strongly influenced by social networks and television. I believe that establishing control measures to prevent the promotion of attitudes that encourage gender bias is a priority in our society. I would encourage content creators to think deeply about this and what future they would like for their daughters.”
Riveiro is a professor and researcher at the University of Vigo and teaches courses on resistance of materials and structural analysis in general; She is also a member of the Applied Geotechnologies research group, which works in the field of infrastructure maintenance.
When she was a child, she remembers, it was clear to her that she wanted to be an engineer, out of imitation and admiration of her father. Years later, doing an internship at a research center in the last year of his degree marked a turning point: “from that moment on I saw clearly my vocation for a scientific career.”
Coming from a humanities family, Marcos decided to deviate from family tradition and study science in high school. «I liked mathematics and physics, and I thought that I could continue to cultivate my natural interest in history, literature and languages as a personal ‘hobby’, and professionally pursue a career in science».
She decided to be a scientist and do her doctoral thesis after a visit to the CSIC Institute of Optics, where she has developed a good part of her professional career.
Marie Curie is among Riveiro’s references and María Josefa Yzuel, among Marcos’s, who also reminds her of her school physics teacher or the person in charge of the subject of coherent optics at the University of Salamanca.
Marcos, together with his team, develops optical instrumentation for the diagnosis of eye diseases and corrections for the most frequent conditions in ophthalmology, such as myopia, presbyopia, cataracts or corneal diseases.
Her career, she says, has required a lot of dedication and commitment, but “really when you enjoy what you do, the difficulties are more like challenges that make you give the best of yourself.”
«I don’t think that the achievements have fallen from heaven, but I also don’t have the feeling that I have encountered more obstacles than my peers. Perhaps I have filters that have not let me see some gender biases that, on some occasions, some people around me have observed that they have existed.