More men named John, William and George have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics than women, writes Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill. We need to recognise the critical role women and girls play or have played in science every day.
In 117 years, with 209 recipients, just three women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for her joint work on radioactivity.
Sixty years later, in 1963, Maria Goeppert Mayer joined her and became the second woman to be awarded the Prize for her joint work on nuclear shell structure.
Fifty-five years later, just last year, Donna Strickland became the third woman to be awarded the Prize for her joint work on generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.
An individual’s gender identity – let alone their name – should not affect whether or not they participate or succeed in physics, or any other science.
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is a time to recognise the critical role women and girls play or have played in science – women like Marie Curie, Maria Mayer and Donna Strickland.
Awareness days like today matter beyond symbolism – they help break down the perception of who a scientist is and who a scientist can be. We cannot underestimate the affect this has on the aspirations of our young girls.
There is a false perception that girls are not interested in pursuing science studies. But exposure to stereotypes that reinforce science as a masculine discipline will affect the choices of girls to participate in science. The more we promote women’s participation in science, the more role models our young girls can see and aspire to be.
As Labor’s Assistant Minister for Innovation, I am always meeting remarkable women working in science who are making our lives better – whether in labs, at engineering sites, in innovative businesses, at universities or in the boardroom. Yes there have been improvements, but the empowerment of girls and women is neither guaranteed nor is the path necessarily linear.
Australia’s science disciplines remain characterised by systematic and entrenched gender inequity, with a loss of girls and women in science at literally every stage: from their initial choices of what subjects to choose in school, and then throughout their career.
But, you can help change this landscape. And, you can start that today. Turn to your sister, daughter or friend and tell her about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Tell her about the achievements of female scientists like Marie Curie, Maria Mayer and Donna Strickland. Call on our male champions of change to step up and take action today.
Together, all of us can help stop harmful gender-based stereotypes that are limiting the choices of our girls.