‘If I hadn’t seen women in these roles when I was younger, I would have thought it was impossible.’ 
by Imogen Edmundson

On the 7th October 2020, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to two women, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna. This was the first time the prize had been awarded to women without a male collaborator. To mark this historic event, I spoke to a local student studying sciences at A-level, to see the impact this news had on her outlook and her aspirations for a career in STEM.

I begin by asking the most basic question: how did it feel to find out the prize had been awarded to two women? After a small struggle with technology, I get my response. ‘As someone studying chemistry and aspiring for a STEM career it felt great!’. She goes on to explain that although women currently have a more prominent role in science than they did in the past, it still feels quite inspiring, acknowledging particularly the impact this will have on young girls. I jump off this idea, and ask whether awareness of women in the industry has changed her outlook on her career at all. She takes a minute to think before responding. ‘Yes, more female representation is encouraging- if I hadn’t seen women in these roles when I was younger, I would have thought it was impossible for me to aspire to work in STEM.’. This sparks a deeper conversation about the contribution of movements like feminism to female representation in science. ‘There is definitely more awareness of women and opportunities for women now, thanks to movements like feminism’ she says, ‘Women can now have more of an instrumental role, however where this has improved for white women, it has not necessarily improved to the same extent for others,’, there is a definite criticism of the ways in which ‘white feminism’ can be a hindrance to many women who are interested in working in STEM. 

After a short break in which she shows me her appropriately science related mug, I get back to questioning, asking whether she feels there is enough awareness of women in STEM. She responds enthusiastically: ‘I do feel like now there are more women in STEM, but it’s still an industry dominated by men and catered towards them, specifically old white men with conservative views. Although there are schemes to encourage more women to do STEM engineering departments, for instance, are very male dominated- and hiring favours men.’. To close, I ask specifically about whether she feels like there are enough opportunities specifically at school. ‘For me, women are definitely encouraged to pursue STEM, and I have been offered lots of opportunities to go on trips and learn about potential careers, but I can’t imagine this is the case for every young girl.’.

It seems, then, that although the Nobel Prize winners have made in impact in terms of female representation in science, STEM is still overwhelmingly male-dominated. As it was put in the interview, ‘female participation has vastly improved, but we still have a long way to go.’.