My talents have never lent themselves to science.
I was decent at algebra and got through statistics through some twisty thinking, but I was left behind when it comes to biology and physics in college. It turns out I’m far from the only woman to struggle with science, technology, engineering and math.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, while men and women are roughly equal in the workforce, men held 76 percent of STEM jobs in 2009. That’s a global phenomenon, according to the United Nations; however, the international organization hopes to do something about that.
Today marks the second annual U.N. International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day highlights the gender disparity in scientific fields while reminding us what is so great about science in the first place.
The U.N., along with the Royal Academy of Science International Trust, recognize that getting women and girls into scientific fields is not only the right thing to do as we strive to reach gender equity; but it’s also beneficial to the work done in those fields.
According to the Association for Women in Science, gender diversity in leadership roles directly coincides with financial success. Companies with women in more than 15 percent of their top management positions experienced 52 percent greater returns than those where women filled less than 10 percent of those type of positions.
It’s good for everyone if companies, including those in the STEM fields, encourage women to take part.
Part of the disparity is due to gender biases in science faculty, which favor male students, according to a 2012 Yale University double-blind study conducted by five professors in four different departments. Male or female, those faculty are more likely to believe men are better suited for science than women and treat their applicants accordingly. Specifically, men are offered higher starting salaries and additional career mentoring, and women are rated as less competent, even when presenting identical credentials.
Shockingly, this inherent bit of unfairness does not give women a warm, fuzzy feeling about their potential new field.
It’s a shame, and one the U.N. knows well. As it has worked on humanitarian efforts around the globe, it has learned how important education is, particularly for women and women in science, who play essential roles in the development of sustainable policies.
I’m happy to see people trying to address this issue on a global level. Despite being outside my particular wheelhouse, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for STEM. In the days of alternative facts from the White House and fake news spreading through social media like wildfire, I find it comforting that there are still a few places we can find some objective truth.
Science plays an incredibly important role in the world as we know it. As time goes on, we’re able to use the scientific method to better understand the problems our world faces and then develop evidence-based solutions. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to look at the evidence when it comes to assessing our progress, testing solutions and identifying risks.
To give you an example, the La Crosse Fire Department has long argued for an additional fire station. Members of the department were familiar enough with their business to know they could do a better job of getting to emergencies — something that literally would save lives — and believed a new station near the La Crosse Regional Airport or Valley View Mall would help them achieve their goal.
Then they sat down and did the statistical analysis.
It turns out, when you consider the city’s approximately 25,000 emergency calls from 2010 to 2015, the southeast end of La Crosse is the optimal location for a fire station for getting the department to a four-minute response time.
While the future of the proposed fire station has yet to be settled, I’d like to say on behalf of all of my fellow residents of La Crosse’s South Side who might someday need emergency services that I’m very glad we looked at the actual calls. I don’t know about you, but I prefer working from facts rather than doing what feels vaguely right.