The COVID-19 pandemic was a sharp reminder of just how vital a well-funded and properly resourced science and research sector is for our wellbeing. The global rush to develop vaccines also shone a light on the important work of women scientists, many of whom were to the fore of creating these life-saving products. For example, the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine was led by British scientist Professor Sarah Gilbert with her team. The vast majority of our frontline healthcare workers are also women.
Science provides the tools to solve our greatest challenges. Indeed, the possibilities could be endless when science research and other fields such as engineering and technology are well-equipped. But in Europe today, we are sorely lacking equality of human resources and greater diversity when it comes to science, engineering, technology and mathematics, or STEM subjects. Not enough women are pursuing careers in STEM.
Women make up 52 percent of the European population, yet only account for 2 out of 5 scientists and engineers, and only 18 percent of Europe's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) professionals are women. Women’s creativity and entrepreneurial potential remains an untapped source of economic growth and jobs. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, closing the gender gap that exists across STEM sectors could create an additional 1.2 million jobs in the EU.
The EPP Group support policies to advance education, training and maintenance of new digital skills and capacities, particularly STEM subjects, with a special focus on girls (universal access to coding, maths and ICT classes), through training and lifelong learning. We want to prioritise diversity and inclusion in STEM to enhance equal opportunities in the economy and in business.
Girls should be encouraged to take up mathematics and science subjects in school. EU funds and programmes, including Erasmus+, could be used to effectively support lifelong learning and training in these areas.
It is necessary to encourage women’s participation in technical and high-level jobs by overcoming educational barriers from an early stage, the gender stereotypes and bias towards women as well as professional barriers, while guaranteeing digital lifelong learning for women.
The creation of greater incentives for both companies and women for role models, mentoring programmes and career paths could help to increase the visibility of women and to promote their access to these sectors. Female entrepreneurship and access to finance could be advanced through EU funding and supported by the European Investment Bank.
Emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), have significant potential to promote gender equality, provided that conscious and unconscious biases are eliminated. We must ensure that gender inequalities and discrimination are not reproduced through the design, input and use of AI systems, as that would further undermine equality.
Ensuring gender equality across STEM will benefit all of us.
By Deirdre Clune MEP
Note to editors
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States