"The more you read about these sensational women, the more you get inspired by their personal stories," says Dr Jess Wade.— Stemettes ?? ? # + (@Stemettes) July 24, 2018
Jess is on a mission. She wants every woman who has achieved something impressive in science to get the recognition they deserve https://t.co/4SuP9MIGZ9 pic.twitter.com/3GB6RaaNhk
Researcher Jess Wade is empowering women scientists one Wikipedia entry at a time.
Wade said she wants more female scientists to receive proper recognition and young girls to learn about more women figures in science. In order to be the change she wishes to see, Wade has taken it upon herself to write Wikipedia pages for every woman who has achieved something impressive in science, according to The Guardian.
“I’ve done about 270 in the past year,” said Wade, who is a postdoctoral researcher in the field of plastic electronics at Imperial College London’s Blackett Laboratory. “I had a target for doing one a day, but sometimes I get too excited and do three.”
Wade comes from parents who are both doctors, and she attended an all-girls school, so science and celebrating girls’ achievements were ingrained in her upbringing.
“I kind of realized we can only really change things from the inside,” she said. “Wikipedia is a really great way to engage people in this mission because the more you read about these sensational women, the more you get so motivated and inspired by their personal stories.”
By the time Wade began pursuing her doctoral degree, it had dawned on her that she was a minority in her field, and it strongly impacted her daily experiences.
“Being isolated is hard — this goes for all underrepresented groups,” she said. “Then there are all those challenges during your PhD that amplify that isolation. If you don’t have anyone you can really get on with around you, it’s so, so hard.”
Wade initially started giving talks at schools and focused on outreach to encourage girls to get into science. However, she said she started to see issues with the work that was being done under the “women in science” initiative. For instance, the “9% is not enough” slogan from a 2016 campaign by the Institution of Engineering and Technology came across negative, serving as more of a deterrent than a motivational tagline.
“If I heard something was only 9% of girls when I was at school I would’ve been like, ‘no,’” said Wade.
In the United Kingdom, the percentage of female A-level physics students has remained stagnant at around 21 percent for the last 10 years, and for computing, just 10 percent. Less than 9 percent of professional engineers are women in Britain, which is among the worst statistics globally, and hasn’t gone up in the last decade. At the slow rate progress is going, research suggests that it would take 258 years to close the gender gap in physics.
“There’s so much energy, enthusiasm, and money going into all these initiatives to get girls into science,” Wade said. “Absolutely none of them is evidence-based and none of them work. It’s so unscientific, that’s what really surprises me.”
In addition to creating the Wikipedia biographies, Wade continues to give talks, and she gives out copies of Angela Saini’s 2017 book, "Inferior," which applies scientific scrutiny to claims of sex differences and gender stereotypes.
“I realized that this kind of bias has been penetrating through society for so long,” she said. “Ever since Darwin’s time, women have been fighting back. I suddenly realized I can do this: I can change it, and I can make sure other people read this, too.”
She has distributed approximately 60 or 70 copies of the book thus far to family, friends, and colleagues at conferences.
Wade's work is not only admirable, it's necessary. In order to break the glass ceilings that keep women trailing behind men in the workplace, there need to be more women getting into traditionally male-dominated roles.
A great starting point is providing young girls with resources to educate themselves about phenomenal, successful women who have come before them. Wade is on the right track, but there's still a long way to go.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Pixabay, jarmoluk