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Empowering Women In Science, Technology, and Innovation by @theflyways

by Hillary Strobel | Featured Contributor

As a member of the UN Empower Women working group, I often get really fun blurbs in my inbox. This month, I got the following prompt for a global conversation about encouraging and inspiring women in Science, Technology, and Innovation:

The Sustainable Development Goals represent the commitment of member states and others in the global community to achieve social, economic and environmental justice for a sustainable world. Advancement of gender equality, and equitable science, technology and innovation (STI) are explicit objectives under several of the SDGs, but they also underpin all of them. — UN Women

Working group members contributed to an online conversation, with several questions as prompts. I wanted to share, if I may be so bold, the first two questions and my answers.

Poster by A Mighty Girl

Q1. Is “inclusion” enough? Does just having greater numbers of women in the STI ecosystem result in the future we want?

Inclusion is not enough. A properly crafted ecosystem would equally meet the needs of both men and women. Author and Yale alumnus Tara Mohr wrote, “[Women] had been allowed to join the institution [Yale] and participate in it, but there had been no inquiry into how to significantly adapt the institution so that women and men would thrive equally there.”

Inevitable result: women and men do not thrive equally there.

I feel that this is the tipping point we are currently witnessing. For decades, women have been entering the work force. This has contributed immensely to elements of empowerment such as financial gains. However, they entered a largely unchecked and unchanged system. During those same decades, women have not had significant opportunity to craft employment policy or regulations. Nor have women had meaningful impact on how work is valued and performed. This is why we are now seeing large numbers of incredibly qualified women quitting STI. Employers are encouraging cultures of blow back while simultaneously being sued for it. Innovation and real benefits are stagnant.

The question itself is reductive. Simply having more of something doesn’t make anything “better,” necessarily. There are economic theories to back this up (the law of diminishing returns comes to mind). The quality of the ecosystem is much more valuable than the size of the ecosystem in driving future growth and success. 10 great women working in an environment that is equally great are going to impact quality more than 100 great women working in a poor environment.

Q2. Does bottom-up and community level engagement of women in STI offer additional or greater opportunities for creating more gender responsive STI, including in comparison to more top down systems?

The answer to Question One therefore informs the answer to Question Two. Both bottom-up emergent leadership and top-down ecosystem positions must include women. Each level of influence is crucial to the success of future generations of women in STI.

There is no question that bottom-up leadership will impact positively on the futures of women in STI. Any number of grassroots movements would prove that theory out. The successes of Second Wave Feminism in the mid- to late-20th century are a good example. However, the shortcomings of each of those movements is also reflective of the greater society in which those movements are operating.

According to the World Bank’s Citizen Engagement project, grassroots change is only effective if the entire system is willing to accept that change. Fundamental top-down social change must include women invested in the bigger picture.

Huge numbers of women certainly have the opportunity to get involved in STI at the grassroots level. This is very important. The gender responsiveness they can create will be powerful indeed. At the same time, someone needs to be listening from the top down to this movement. This is why women need to have a strong presence at that level as well. In the end, each will inform the other. Generally accepted social science theories admit that there is no real value in using “either-or” statements to explain human behavior. We must strive for inclusion by accepting the idea that both levels constantly influence and reinforce the other. This creates a virtuous cycle.

Where do the readers of SheOwnsIt.com come down on women in Science, Technology, and Innovation?

This is mission critical for me as a professional woman, of course! I want to hear from you about your opinions. We must always be looking to develop best practices and find ways to support and encourage this all-important set of goals.

For more information on the UN Women’s Empower Women working group discussion on equality in Science, Technology, and Innovation, visit the website.

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