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7 Reasons Why Women Are Invisible in Science

Media

By not covering successful women in technology, the media denies the next generation role models. Flip through any popular technical magazine and you’ll rarely find an article written by or about a woman. Why?

David Ball, editor of Packet Magazine says, “Out of my top five freelance writers, four are women. While our writers get bylines, in many cases the byline goes to the content expert interviewed for the story. There appear to be more male engineers and technical product managers than female.”

Regarding the dearth of articles about women, Don Davis, editor of Card Technology Magazine comments, “The majority of the executives in the industry we primarily cover are men. Thus, most of the knowledgeable sources are men. As for the audience, I’m sure it’s mostly male.”

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Editors justify lack of coverage saying their readers assumed to be male wouldn’t be interested in women in technology.

It is left to women’s magazines to cover—a vicious cycle as the typical woman’s magazine covers what are considered as “women” subjects: fashion, beauty, and family.

“There should be a proper regulatory framework to ensure that the broadcasters’ air programs on successful women in technology. The regulators should ensure that broadcasters comply,” says Emily Khamula, Broadcasting Officer in Malawi, Africa.

Dr. Rodney Brooks of MIT disagrees. “See the Forbes article on iRobot featuring Helen Greiner and the movie ‘Me & Isaac Newton’ featuring student Maja Mataric. Or the press coverage for Cynthia Brezeal -Time Magazine featured a multi-page story plus myriad TV appearances. None of my former male students have done as well in the press as these three.”

Mass media coverage of Brooks’ three former students who specialized in robotics can be explained. Robotics is still considered a maverick field for women.

Unfortunately, only ‘displayable’ aggressiveness fetches coverage though most technical women tend to be internally aggressive because of their jobs.

A good example would be Rosalind Franklin – the lady whose X-ray pictures were fundamental for understanding the DNA structure but whose contribution is being recognized fifty years after her death.

NetworkingFemale scientist

Lack of networking plays an enormous role in rendering women in technology invisible. Two factors remain as major obstacles to networking.

  • The Old Boys’ network.
  • Male colleagues’ wives or girlfriends.

Often, professional success requires networking with male colleagues outside of office hours. For women, this isn’t always easy.

“I find networking to be a major problem. I cannot have the same informal ‘outside work’ relationship with my peers and senior executives that my male ‘competitors’ could have without spouses being concerned and some people’s tongues wagging,” says a senior manager at Intel.

Deterrence

Deterrence occurs in two places: school and home. In developed countries, young women are actively discouraged by their teachers or guidance counselors from pursuing engineering.

According to a study done by the National Science Foundation for Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering in the USA in 2000, 34 percent of girls reported being advised against taking math in their senior year of high school.

In many developing countries, parents refuse to invest in a girl’s technical education. Hadeel Treiki, the researcher in Malta, says, “Though Arab perceptions are changing, opportunities for women to enter technical fields are far less than men, e.g., parents would like to spend money on their boy child than a girl as he is supposed to help them when they are old.”

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About Deepa Kandaswamy
Deepa Kandaswamy is an award winning writer, political analyst and engineer based in India. Her articles have been published in six continents and some of her writing credits include PC Plus (UK), Middle East Policy (US), Christian Science Monitor, Ms., Herizons (Canada), Khaleej Times (UAE), Film Ink (Australia), The Hindu (India), and Gurlz (India). She can be contacted by e-mailing to [email protected].