Women & Science
Resources about women scientists, STEM students and role models in science. Videos, biographies and links in English, Spanish, Swedish, Italian and Cypriot.
Recommendations and Guidelines document and webinar
Evaluation System instruments
Since Marie Curie in 1903, only 17 women have won a Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry or medicine, compared to 572 men. Today, only 28% of all of the world’s researchers are women. Such huge disparities, such deep inequality, does not happen by chance. Too many girls are held back by discrimination, biases, social norms and expectations that influence the quality of education they receive and the subjects they study. (Cracking the code—Unesco report, 2017)Illustration from 11 February, International Day of Women and Girls in Science
Research on biological factors (brain structure and development, genetics, neuroscience and hormones) shows that the gender gap in STEM is not a product of sex differences in innate ability. On the contrary, several studies indicate that this gap is the result of factors embedded in both, socialisation and learning processes. Self-selection bias is considered to be the major reason why girls opt out of STEM, as they often do not consider STEM professions to be compatible with their gender. Girls are often brought up to believe that STEM topics are ‘masculine’ and that the female ability in these fields is innately inferior to that of males. This can undermine girls’ confidence, interest and willingness to engage in STEM subjects.
Early childhood (4-10 y.o.) seems to be the ideal stage to reverse this situation, not only because it is the stage when interest in STEM subjects begins, but also because sex-role stereotyping is reinforced at primary school. In fact, several studies have shown that at a young age, girls generally show just as much interest in science as boys with a sudden drop in this interest by the time they reach high school. For example, a 2017 research in UK shows that while half of surveyed girls aged 7-11 considered Maths and Computer Science enjoyable and fun, this proportion dropped to 31% and 36% respectively in respondents aged 11-14.
Establishing links to role models
Research has shown that, in addition to inquiry-based activities, the existence of role models (among others activities such as mentorship, internships, and career exploration) improves girls’ self-confidence and interest in STEM careers and courses whilst also helping reduce sexist attitudes about STEM and offering girls an authentic understanding of STEM careers. Having a role model was one of the most effective ways to prevent girls from falling out of love with STEM subjects, recent Microsoft research revealed. And this contact with role models should begin as early as primary education, continuing through secondary and tertiary levels and into career entry.
An ideal science role model is someone who has a good personality, expertise in science and is able to make personal connections. Role models should also be interesting and attractive to the girls. Role models can be older students, professionals in STEM academic, business and research environments.
Teachers can expose girls to role models, for example, through direct meetings, videos or success stories. In this webpage, we are presenting several videos of young STEM students in an attempt to bring female images in STEM careers more close to the daily experience of girls, who don´t want to see scientists as a stereotype but as people
Additionally, we have selected some of several sites where teachers can find inspiring biographies from women in all STEM areas to work with girls in the classroom.
We would like to finish with a quote of S. Jocelyn Bell Burnell , astronomer who discovered the pulsar, in an editorial for Science magazine: “I no longer believe that making women more courageous, more assertive, ‘more like men’, is the right way to move forward. Women should not have to do all of the adapting. It is time for society to move toward women, not women toward society.”
Videos from young STEM students from the partner’s countries
Alba García – Student of Civil Engineering in Spain (video in Spanish)
Here is the selection of sites (in English, Swedish, Italian, Spanish and Cypriot) from which you can find interesting stories about inspiring women. A good source of ideas are also books like “Good night stories for rebel girls” which offers the portraits of 200 inspiring women (not only in STEM subjects).
This site is “Dedicated to some great women, especially Italians, who have distinguished themselves in science and technology, from antiquity to the present da. It tells their biographies, discoveries, framework of the historical context in which they live or lived, to discover the reality of the female condition in relation to the scientific studies, the models and the stereotypes that have conditioned their existence, the curiosity. The interviews are an example for the young people who decide to undertake the scientific studies.”
This site, promoted by the EU under the slogan “Science: It’s a girl thing!”, was part of a campaign that targets girls aged 13-18 -especially those who would not normally be interested in careers in research- and encourages them to study science. Through online and face-to-face activities with inspiring women scientist role models, the campaign reaches out to these teenagers to give real information about the excitement and challenges of being a professional scientist or engineer The ‘Women in Research and Innovation’ campaign is part of a wider EU strategy for gender equality in research and innovation. It comprises a broad range of activities which aim to 1) address the under-representation of women in research careers, 2) integrate the gender dimension in all areas of research and 3) modernize research institutions, in particular their human resources management. The “Science: It’s a girl thing!” website provides information in all official EU languages.
The role models presented in this site form part of the WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) campaign for Gender balance in science, technology & Engineering, which promotes several projects in order to help women and girls enter and progress in STEM education and careers
In this site, it can be found the top 10 engineering role models.
The Women’s Engineering Society is a charity and a professional network of women engineers, scientists, and technologists offering inspiration, support, and professional development. Working in partnership, we support and inspire women to achieve as engineers, scientists and as leaders; we encourage the education of engineering, and we support companies with gender diversity and inclusion. In this site, WES presents several engineering inspiring role models, at different stages of their careers.
Women of Science site aims to present “a new way that we talk about science, and the lives of scientists – in particular, female scientists. Rather than hearing about the skills needed, the work hours, and the qualifications – I wanted to share the interests, the ups, the downs of people in the scientific community. I wanted to start sharing stories about real people in science, not just fact files. Who are they? What are their struggles, their hopes – how do they feel about their work? We are making female scientist role models truly attainable and trying to shatter existing stereotypes. Science may not (and probably isn’t) the be-all and end-all of their existence, they are not geniuses – they are regular people, who do science, and happen to be female.”
STA (Science and Technology Australia) “is working with some of the nation’s most dynamic scientists and technologists to create role models for young women and girls, working towards equal representation in the media of men and women in STEM. Superstars of STEM is smashing society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increasing the public visibility of women in STEM.”.
IT talent 2013 focuses on girls in the IT industry. In this film, five role models discuss how they look at the need for the code, for the individual and for society. We get perspectives from among business consultants, teachers and project managers.
WiTEC is the link between business, academy and the women who work in technology-intensive businesses. We inspire women to study and continue to develop within STEM
This project is an initiative to bring actual science experts to visit schools. It’s a Norwegian site and the offer is to meet with a professional, a real person that has a specific occupation within science and technology. Students are given the opportunity to have real experiences of what it is to be an engineer for example.
In this site, several videos and clips can be found to give some inspiration to the engineering profession.
A European Commission initiative project promoting women in science. The here presented site shows female role models within science from a European perspective. The actual site is no more updated since the project is transferred to Hypatia.
Hypatia is an EU Horizon 2020 funded project that aims to develop a theoretical framework on gender-inclusive STEM education and to produce, test and promote a toolkit with practical solutions and modules for schools, businesses and science centers and museums across Europe. The target group is not specifically younger children but rather 13-18-year-old girls and boys both in and out of the school environment
An organization that is part of a European network including 8 European countries, WiTEC Association. The organization is focusing on supporting women’s careers in innovation and entrepreneurial context. Aiming for a more equal gender distribution within male-dominated industries.
A Norwegian initiative from the Norwegian Centre for Science Education and the Department of Physics, University of Oslo. The aim of the project is to develop new knowledge and theoretical perspectives and to stimulate informed discussion, of how to recruit and retain more young people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
The Swedish national television department for science has made a list of the five top contemporary scientists that should be known. The list was compiled in conjunction with the international women’s day.
This leaflet was produced for an exhibition at the technical museum (Tekniska Museet) in Stockholm. The exhibition (and now the leaflet) presents innovation by women. 58 active and 10 historical women inventors are presented.
A website article compiled by ThougtCo presenting female role models within mathematics from ancient Greece to the20 century.
Notable Female Pioneers in Science, Medicine, and Math. A list compiled by ThoughtCo. “Women have made major contributions to the sciences for centuries. Yet surveys repeatedly show that most people can only name a few—often just one or two—female scientists. But if you look around, you’ll see evidence of their work everywhere, from the clothing we wear to the X-rays used in hospitals.”
A Swedish website for young scientists. The organization has more than 3500 members and 50 local clubs. Unga forskare (young scientists) have a motto: made by young people, for young people. The purpose is to support young people’s interest in STEM.
A Swedish role model on programming in school. She has acted as a program leader in Swedish national television (SVT) with a TV show on programming for kids. She has a background as a primary teacher in Swedish language but She is now promoting programming and digital competences on a consultancy basis.
Some additional resources
Joint research imitative between Accenture and Girls who code. The findings from research is stated as follows. “New research by Accenture and Girls Who Code shows that the share of women in computing jobs is in decline and suggests that universal access to computing in schools will not address the gender gap. Only by tailoring courses to girls’ specific needs can we boost their commitment to computing.”
Girls who code have a single mission: to close the gender gap in technology. The movement started out with an initiative concerning 20 girls in New York City and have expanded to reach some 40 000 girls in all 50 US states. The organization offers campus programs, summer schools, and club facilities.
An organization founded by three girls with the purpose of giving courses to girls on coding. Their motto is to lower the thresholds and inspire girls to dare coding.
One of the objectives of this site “is to show that the presence of women in different disciplines has not been sufficiently valued: many times women have been absent in the prehistory of scientific disciplines and, as a result of this process, are invisible for the vast majority of manuals. With this space that we put at your service, we intend to disseminate biographies about women scientists from each field of knowledge (Chemistry, Economics, Engineering, Communication, Psychology, History, Medicine, Philology, etc).”
As 63% of Spanish believe that women are not worth high-level scientists, this post is a small sum to “change the figures”. That women and men are worth the same, and for everything, it should not have to be proven.
The video in the series “Women in science: an incomplete history” is dedicated to women pioneers and inventors.
A video shows how women scientists from the University of Burgos, who work on varied scientific areas, open their labs and places of work to make girls feel welcome. Made for the 11 February, International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
- Un Día en la VIDA de CIENCIA y DIVULGACIÓN | Inés-table
A Youtuber scientist and Ph.D. student shows how’s her life on a regular day.
Italian Women in STEM
“For the female component of mankind the time has come to take a decisive role in the management of the planet. The route taken by mankind seems to have taken us to a dead-end self-destruction. Women can make a strong contribution at this critical moment ” (R. Levi Montalcini)
Laura Bassi was born in Bologna in 1711. Scholar of physics, biology, mathematics, logic, philosophy, Latin, Greek and French, she was the second graduated woman in Italy and the first European woman to undertake an academic and scientific career and to become a university professor, obtaining the chair of biology and physics at the University of Bologna. At the age of 21, she obtained a degree in philosophy after answering the questions of five scholars in such an eloquent manner that it arouses the admiration of the vast auditorium. Laura Bassi could teach only after the permission of the superiors, but she set up a laboratory in her house and started to give experimental physics lectures. Laura Bassi was considered by her contemporaries a woman of exceptional talent, equally gifted in Latin, logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy, algebra, geometry, Greek, French She was in contact with the most important scholars of her time, from Volta to Voltaire. She died in Bologna in 1778.
Rita Levi Montalcini
Rita Levi Montalicini was born in 1909 in Torino and she was the only Italian woman awarded with the Noble Prize in the scientific field. After long discussions with the father, she graduated in medicine in 1936, she wanted to continue her academic career as an assistant and researcher in neurobiology and psychiatry, but she was forced to emigrate to Belgium, due to the racial laws issued by the fascist regime in 1938. Once she returned to Italy she carried on her researches on the nervous system of chicken embryos in a laboratory created in her bedroom. In 1947 she accepted the invitation of the neuroembryologists Viktor Hamburger and went to the United States, at the Washington University of Saint Louis. Here, in 1954, together with her collaborator Stanley Cohen, she discovered the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) a protein that plays an essential role in the growth and differentiation of sensory and sympathetic nerve cells. For this discovery in 1986, Rita Levi Montalcini and Stanley Cohen won the Nobel Prize.
In 1992 she established a foundation for the training and education of young people to play a leading role in the scientific and social life of their country (especially in African nations).
Rita Levi Montalcini dies at the extraordinary age of 103 on December 30, 2012, in Rome.
On 12 June 1922 Margherita Hack was born in Florence. Her parents left her free to decide her academic path and she graduated with an astrophysics thesis. In 1964 she moved to Trieste, where she began working on radio astronomy, the study of the stars in the range of radio waves. In the same period, she took courses in astrophysics and radio astronomy at the Institute of Physics of the University of Milan. She began to collaborate with foreign universities as a visiting researcher and, accompanied by her husband, who followed her on every move, collaborated with the University of Berkeley (California), the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (New Jersey), ‘Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris (France), the Observatories of Utrecht and Groningen (Holland) and the University of Mexico City, arriving to publish over 250 original works in international journals. The first woman to direct an astronomical observatory in Italy, she carried out an important divulgation activity and gave a considerable contribution to the research for the study and classification of many categories of stars. Margherita Hack died in 2013.
Samantha Cristoforetti was the first Italian woman in the crews of ESA (European Space Agency). Born in 1977, she is an aviatrix, an engineer, and a military astronaut. In May 2009 she was selected as an astronaut by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the first Italian woman and third European in all, ranking among the six best of a selection in which 8500 candidates had taken part. She left in November 2014 with the International Space Station mission Expedition 42 / Expedition 43 Futura, she has achieved the European record and female record of stay in space in a single flight (199 days).
Fabiola Gianotti was born in 1960, she graduated at the University of Milan in 1984 with a sub-nuclear address, inspired by the assignment to Carlo Rubbia of the Nobel Prize, she decided to start a research doctorate on elementary particles. In 1987 he joined the CERN in Geneva (the European organization for nuclear research) contributing to several experiments.
She participated and coordinated from 1999 to 2003 (then again in 2009) the Atlas experiment, which involved thousands of physicists from nearly forty countries around the world and is still considered the greatest scientific experiment in history. As the spokesperson for the experiment, in July 2012 she announced to the world that a particle compatible with the Higgs boson (also known as the particle of God) was observed for the first time. In 2013, Peter Higgs, on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physics, wants her at his side for the ceremony.
In November 2014 Fabiola Gianotti was chosen for the position of general manager of CERN becoming the first woman in history to hold this position.
Elena Cattaneo graduated in pharmacy, summa con Laude, at the University of Milan in 1986 and only 26 years old, she left for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, to go to work in the laboratory of Ronald McKay, a pioneer of stamina cells. In 1992 Elena Cattaneo, returned to Italy, deciding to continue the research on stem cells started in the United States. In 2002 he received the nomination, from the Ministry of University and Research, as National Representative to the European Union for Genomics and Biotechnology Research (2003-2006).
Biologist, pharmacologist and scientific communicator, Elena Cattaneo is today among the leading Italian experts in stem cells and neurodegenerative diseases and a point of reference for scientists who work internationally in this field.
Since 2009 she is the first Italian physicist to direct the Gran Sasso National Laboratories, of the famous National Institute of Nuclear Physics, the largest underground laboratories in the world. Lucia Votano, deals with international research on neutrinos, defined the ghosts of the universe. She coordinates about a thousand physicists coming from all over the world who work on about twenty major projects, among which the one that led to the demonstration, together with CERN in Geneva, of the existence of the Higgs boson.
 National Academy of Sciences (2007). Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. Washington. DC: National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. Free summary available at http://www.nap.edu//catalog/11741.html
 Maltese, A. V. and Tai, R. H. 2010. Eyeballs in the fridge: sources of early interest in science. International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 32, No. 5, pp. 669-685
 For example, Adamuti-Trache, M., & Andres, L. (2008). Embarking on and persisting in scientific fields of study: Cultural capital, gender, and curriculum along the science pipeline. International Journal of Science Education, 30(12), 1557-1584;
Bleeker, M., & Jacobs, J. (2004). Achievement in math and science: Do mothers’ beliefs matter 12 years later? Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(1), 97-109
Phillips, K., Barrow, L., & Chandrasekhar, M. (2002). Science career interests among high school girls one year after participation in a summer science program. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 8(2), 235-247
 Campbell, P. & Steinbrueck, K. (1996). Striving for gender equity: National programs to Increase student engagement with math and science. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science
 Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
 Buck GA, Clark VLP, Leslie-Pelecky D, Lu Y, Cerda-Lizarraga P. Examining the cognitive processes used by adolescent girls and women scientists in identifying science role models: A feminist approach. Sci Educ. 2008;92:688–707. doi: 10.1002/sce.20257