With different backgrounds and experiences, all genders have something to contribute to science that can only make it more relevant and useful to society. Empowering individuals to believe both in their ability and their right to participate means that collectively we can thrive.
Support to learn and discover is integral to the success of women and girls in science
When asked to reflect upon what pulled them towards science, the answer was almost unanimously related to a begging curiosity towards the world surrounding them as young girls. Children are the best little scientists, in my opinion. Their development is wired around observation, repetition and testing all kinds of boundaries.
Whether this curiosity is explored by chasing frogs and bugs across country landscapes, in the depths of books, or in the classroom – having support to learn and discover is integral to the success of women and girls in science.
Tracy Poole, an ecologist and analyst in our ETS compliance team, asserts that it is the passion for what you do that counts. “Science helped me to discover my passions, and identify the area in which I wanted to work – environmental protection.”
“With the right support and attitude it doesn’t make a difference if you are from a classic academic environment or not,” adds Marieke Soeter, an ecotoxicologist and Senior Advisor in our Hazardous Substances team.
Creating and supporting avenues for all people to explore the science and wonders of the environment around them is critical in supporting girls and women to follow their passions. We need to foster learning and working spaces where their voices may be heard, and their questions answered.
“No matter what your gender identity, you have a right to be believed in, respected, and supported. Accept that wholeheartedly, and give it away just as readily,” says Isabel Herstel, a conservation biologist and analyst in our ETS team.
Talking about bias in the system, and steps towards change
Acknowledging and talking about the systematic biases that exist in science culture and have resulted in underrepresentation and pay inequity is a good step towards dismantling the prejudice. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (and arguably Aotearoa’s top science leader), Professor Juliet Gerrard, is often heard highlighting and prioritising the issue, and it is something we give deliberate thought to here at the EPA.
While our brilliant women of science fly a flag of strength and excellence from our offices here in Wellington, there is more work to be done in actively including and supporting women and girls in science to have their voices heard and successes celebrated.
You can support the young people in your life by encouraging curiosity, challenging gender stereotypes, and teaching the value of failure and development of skills over time. Talk about the successes of women in STEM, and give space for young women to speak up and explore the diversity of roles one can assume as a scientist.
Hannah Davidson's biography
Hannah hails from Otago/Southland, where she completed a Master of Science in Chemistry at the University of Otago, focussed on the topic of improving alternative plastic processes. Hannah joined the EPA in 2019 as Science Research assistant, bringing a passion for science communication and its role in environmental protection.