Science needs to look to feminist theory to sort its gender issue, says CUSU's women's officerIntel Free Press

That women have been historically excluded from STEM subjects and industries is uncontroversial. And in spite of convictions that scientific institutions today operate on a model of gender-neutral meritocracy, this exclusion continues – albeit to a far lesser extent.

The WISE campaign, which promotes girls and women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), found that only 14.4 per cent of those working in STEM occupations in 2015 were women. Moreover, a 2012 report for the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET – science, engineering and technology – found that young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men.

There are myriad other statistics one could dredge up, but I’m more interested here in the place of feminist theory in this discussion. Certainly in the case of the technology industry there might be such a place. Beyond the moral arguments for gender parity in tech, the strength of feminist methodology can also be convincing.

Feminist critique has been known to uncover previously androcentric assumptions. The commitment by some to cultivate a stance of critical reflexivity requires that feminists take account of how their premises and research processes are socially defined.

Thus one can take the example of the Apple health-tracking app that failed to allow people to track their periods. Having more people who have periods in the room might have prevented this from happening.

But even those who don’t have periods could have been more reflexive in their thinking, considered that they were creating a product that would be used by people with bodies different to their own, and innovated accordingly.

However, that level of awareness is most easily brought about in diverse spaces. Although it’s doing better, in 2014 only 30 per cent of Apple’s workforce consisted of women.

A second point relates to how sexism is tied in to the distribution of capital. If we look to the US, it can be seen that venture capitalists are less likely to invest in start-ups where women are involved in management. Moreover, investors actively reduce holdings in companies that appoint female directors.

Regardless of whether these discrepancies are caused by implicit or explicit bias, the result is the same. This is one reason of many why it’s not enough to simply get more women in tech or STEM. We have to tackle prejudices at the root.

We should celebrate the enormous strides that women have taken in STEM. But we also need to recognise that theirs is a battle that can be fought within the feminist movement. A battle that has yet to be won.

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