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Changing the Narrative—Overcoming Challenges for Women in STEM

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Dr. Merryn McKinnon shares her research on how to tackle the societal challenges facing women and people of color in STEM fields. McKinnon's prior research showed that women in STEM face an incredible amount of stereotypes of a daily basis—from both men and women in their fields. McKinnon says that this is a societal issue, and change starts with shifting the way we think about the roles men and women are supposed to play in society from childhood onwards.
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So from your findings, what well your conclusions about how we can move forward from this. Mhm. Unfortunately it's it's not one clear path, it's messy and multifaceted, so it really does come down to women can do things. Women aren't broken, we don't need fixing per se. We can certainly start to reclaim some of these stereotypes and and flip them and monitor our own behavior towards other women. But this needs a societal response. So we need to look at how we're talking about uh gender and inclusion and who does certain things and the stereotypes that exist. So even within schooling there's certainly more attention being paid to it now. But even um I guess if you look at the toy department in the toy section in like any kind of department store, all the all the girls toys are pink and they're to do with animals and um you know maybe medicine perhaps a bit possibly the nurse rather than the doctor, whereas the boys get the blue stuff and it's all about the engineering, the jets, the cars, this and that and it's, that's really, really subtle, but it's also constantly reinforcing that girls go to the biology and the caring and nurturing fields. And boys, you go off with engineering and the analytical and the exactly. And then sometimes subconsciously or unconsciously, teachers will push boys more towards the harder disciplines and push the girls more towards the softer. Um, but it's just these realizations, almost every single step along the way that we need to address it within the family. We need to address it in our consumer behavior. We need to address it in schools. We then need to address it in all of the organizations that we work in in our workplace policies. It's, we need to rebuild from the ground up and that's really going to take time. But by the same token, if we want to address a lot of the issues that we're facing as a global society, we need to be drawing upon the skills, ideas, expertise, innovation, creativity of the entire population, not just one dominant cultural group and that tends to be white male style. So it's about harnessing everybody. Uh, and research has shown that the more diversity you have in the team, the more creative it is, the more innovative it is, the better it performs. Uh, if you achieve at least 30% female leadership in organizations and in boards, then you better performance in terms of financial outcomes, actual performance indicators. I mean, what have we got to lose except for a shift in the status quo? Yeah, exactly. There's really no true downside to this. You're only going to be able to help innovate better and, you know, expand our knowledge and expand our capabilities by being able to draw from more of these people who want to contribute as well. But you know that about trying to get I guess more people in. But how does that change? How does that impact the way that we change the perceptions? I mean we're still going to be dealing with for a while. The issues were bitchy, were bossy, were too outspoken, That's still a big part of I guess the psyche and the way that we do interact with each other as women or as men interacting with women. How do you go about getting kind of all of that moving? I don't know how to face it. Yeah, well that's good because I'm not entirely sure how to answer it really. Um I think it's it's certainly removing that surprise of seeing um you know, a woman or a person of color in a particular role. So I think if you said doctor or nurse you have a very clear image in your mind about what the doctor looks like and then what the nurse looks like. And so it's about if we make these fields and these disciplines more inclusive, then it will become more normal to have a variety of different people working in these roles. So we take away that, oh I didn't expect that kind of factor and it becomes more natural to expect that the capabilities and the competency is going to be saved regardless of the gender and appearance and background. Exactly. And it's I think this quote has been attributed to everybody. I think one of them is sally right who's a Nasa astronaut? You can't be what you can't see.