Under the microscope: How important diverse perspectives are

Ford Canada has one for Women's History Month 2023 Commercial for a Men's Only vehicle presented in which there are no inventions by women. There are therefore no indicators, GPS, rear-view mirrors or windshield wipers. What might make you smile at first glance is often a sad reality in the MINT sector, because the perspective of women is still far too often missing here.

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At the beginning of the year we already reported on the figures MINT spring reports and the MINT young talent barometer. The results of the latter in particular paint a sobering picture: among MINT trainees, only one in eight is a woman, and only 31 percent of graduates of a classic MINT course are female.

Phyllis Ndugire in a white coat and glasses holds a tool in her hand.
© Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences

Our zdi heroine also reported on the lack of female perspectives Phyllis Ndugire, who shared experiences from her mechanical engineering master's degree with us:

In this “Under the Magnifying Glass” article for the zdi Heroines October, we shed light on why the perspectives of women in MINT are so important and what role they play in the zdi community.

Courage to gap? Not when it comes to gender equality!

The winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economics, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, has been researching the role of women in the labor market and the so-called “gender gap” for over 50 years. These gender-specific gaps do not only exist in the economy, where they manifest themselves, for example, as the “gender pay gap” through lower pay for women compared to men. Goldin analyzed 200 years of data on women's work in the United States. She noted that early and good access to education is important so that women can gain access to well-paid professions. A result that shows how important early and low-threshold MINT education is for gender equality.

However, women are often paid less than men for the same jobs, even if they are better educated. Goldin therefore identified other factors that affect women's ability to work. Like in MINT young talent barometer highlighted, Goldin also attaches great importance to the role of female role models. Especially when it comes to conveying (new) role models or avoiding gender stereotypes. Another important point: A salary difference often arises between men and women after the birth of the first child and the part-time work that women often do.

The gender gap exists in many research areas. One also speaks of the “gender data gap”, i.e. the gender-specific data gap that arises because women are missing, for example, from medical test and control groups. The female perspective is also often neglected when training artificial intelligence (AIs). Ours knows that too Interview partner Gesche Neusel


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Changes in perspective are necessary

So it can only be a disadvantage if female perspectives are missing. Or more precisely: the perspectives of the different so-called Easy-to-ignore groups, which also includes women in the MINT sector. So it's not just about female perspectives, but about bringing in as many different perspectives as possible - in the development of products as well as in (medical) research and also in MINT education.

A group of people hold a network made of a red thread with the letters zdi on it.

“Odd” CVs like those of our zdi heroines Karin Ressel and Carmen Köhler can do exactly that. With their wealth of experience, they bring in new perspectives and thus actively contribute to solving problems. A professional reorientation towards your dream job or a return to work requires courage and self-confidence. Supporting women by presenting them with successful role models, positive reinforcement and dealing constructively with mistakes are therefore important factors in MINT girls' work.

Women at zdi.NRW – a connection that pays off

A bar chart shows the proportion of coordinators in zdi networks and zdi student laboratories.

If you take a closer look at the people in the zdi community, you can see that the face of zdi.NRW is predominantly female. Over half of the approximately 188 people who take care of the more than 100 zdi student laboratories at an organizational level are women. Again, a good half of the people listed as coordinators, i.e. those primarily responsible for the student laboratories, are also women. The approximately 50 zdi networks are also mostly run by female coordinators, and the proportion of women here is a good 70 percent.

One reason why the proportion of female coordinators in the student laboratories is lower could be that, in contrast to the coordination of the networks, the main people responsible here are more often MINT experts themselves and accordingly there are a lack of women here too. The structural problem not only affects the course participants, but also those who take care of the implementation.

The team that deals with the topic of STEM work for girls at the zdi state office is also predominantly (but not exclusively) female. Kerstin Helmerdig has been one of the main people responsible for implementing the zdi MINT girls' work for many years. It is clear to her that a quantitative assessment of the work is hardly possible due to the data available. But one thing is clear: the proportion of girls is increasing.

“It’s not like we’re making giant leaps. But the proportion of girls has steadily increased by a few percentage points in recent years. We now have a proportion of 47% of girls who attend our zdi courses. “It’s not far to the 50% where it naturally ends,” says Helmerdig.

A group of women pose for a photo. The text says: “As “heroines behind the heroines” Kathi, Susanne, Kerstin, Gwen and Isabell make the zdi heroines October possible.

At zdi.NRW it becomes clear that women are doers and networkers. It is clear that extracurricular MINT education would be in a much worse position in many places if it were not for the zdi coordinators. However, it must also be noted that the structural problems that Goldin describes in her research do not stop at zdi. But that doesn't stop the zdi community from constantly working to dismantle these structural injustices, gender stereotypes and outdated role models through empowerment and networking.

It is not enough to make girls and young women realize how important and lucrative their role in the STEM field can be. We also need to work with boys and young men to break down stereotypes. This is exactly what the zdi community has planned for this year's MINT girls camp, where gender stereotypes and role models were discussed lively in a workshop with eighth graders.

Click here for the follow-up report from the MINT Girls Camp 2023

Why is STEM girls’ work still important?

The number of female MINT students has almost doubled in the last ten years. But the numbers are now stagnating and the students often do not become professional MINT students. The work in the area of ​​promoting MINT girls is not yet done. In addition, every year of girls is followed by a new one. In the best case scenario, the work doesn't have to start from scratch because the young women are becoming more self-confident and gender stereotypes are being broken down. But it is still important to emphasize how close to everyday life, communicative, creative and lucrative MINT careers are. Because it has been shown that an early introduction to good MINT education and female role models can help to inspire more girls and young women for MINT - and thus for lucrative and future-proof careers. You can't start early enough - ideally with a MINT course from the zdi community.

Are you looking for MINT courses in your region?

You can find all courses on the zdi community platform!


Links to articles about Nobel Prize winner Claudia Goldin:

Links to articles about women in STEM careers:

Links on the topic of gender data gap:

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