Quirks & Quarks

Sep 21, 2019: Women in Science Special — How science has done women wrong

Why women still aren't equally represented in science, both as researchers, and in science done about women

Why women still aren't equally represented in science, both as researchers, and in science done about women

Rosie the Riveter, who this image was based on, was an icon of World War II and a symbol of feminine capability. Women were fully capable then, just as they are today and will continue to be in the future, even in male dominated STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Ben Shannon / CBC)
Listen to the full episode54:01

It's 2019 and women are still significantly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Women hold about about one-third of the academic positions in science, though that number is much lower in fields like math and engineering. In all, women are fewer than a quarter of the science and technology workers in Canada.  

Part 1: We look at the systemic barriers — sometimes called the "the glass obstacle course" — that women in science have to navigate to progress in science at every level. The glass obstacle course helps explain why, as you move to the top of science fields, the number of women drops precipitously.

Part 2We also look at how bias against women in science has been constructed — because science itself has some responsibility. Bad science has, throughout history, been used as a tool to reinforce traditional sex roles by misrepresenting women as biologically and intellectually incapable of doing science. 

Part 3: Historic bias is also in part responsible for the fact that women are understudied in science. The bias to the male standard in biology — and the perception that women are too "complicated" to study — has meant that drugs, surgeries and even public health interventions have been tested on men and male lab animals. This has led to "standard" therapies and treatments that work for men — but less well or not at all on women — and this has implications for everything from cardiovascular health to pain control.

Women in science have come a long way, but there's still a long way to go.