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Supporting Women: Can The World Of Politics Learn From The World Of Science

11/10/2016 17:27

With the Donald Trump revelations this week, the pertinent issue of sexual harassment becomes ever more prominent.

Will the Republican Party be forever tainted by its association with Trump and his unacceptable attitudes towards women? Will he fall from his throne for making these outrageous remarks or will he flourish despite his apparent utter lack of respect for the female sex?

I'm not sure what is more frustrating - that men in high places can actually think like this, or that someone with such a blinkered vision of the world has been able to come within a whisker of becoming the most powerful leader on the planet. Men in the world's spotlight like Trump should be the ones championing women, not denigrating them.

Despite a growing number of female political leaders across the globe, women are still in a minority when it comes to positions of power in world politics. As is the case in science, IT and academia, which has plenty of its own poor examples of sexism and lack of respect for merit. Although a number of high-profile positions in the world of politics are currently held by women, on average the top of the food chain is dominated by men, as is still the case in the world of science which is itself not immune to the Trump vision of women.

A recent notable Twitter spat between a popular science feed and Neil deGrasse Tyson demonstrates a "locker room" mentality and attitude towards women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) that still exists.

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" ...women in STEM are mocked and abused. Sexual harassment is rife in astronomy and grad programs..."

This Twitter thread offers a commendable example of a high profile male supporting and advocating for women in STEM. What can be done to change this - to open everyone's eyes to the full potential of women?

Just as in politics, attitudes need to change, but what is the best way of doing that? And is it even possible?

On Thursday night of last week, Digital Science held an event which examined and discussed the issue of how to champion the success of women in STEM and avoid the echo chamber. What became clear as the night's conversations flowed was that in order to effect real change, there needs to be significant support from the top - from men as well as women.

What was particularly useful about this event was the additional practical advice that resulted from the discussions. Some guidelines have been crowd-sourced from the attendees including:

* Parity at the podium - support women speaking at STEM events and refuse to speak or attend all-male panels
* Parity in the media - ask women to speak about their work and research, rather than just diversity issues
* Become a mentor - ensure that women are mentored, by either other women or men, and provide opportunities for women to be mentors, to both women and men.

Can the world of politics also take heed of these suggestions?

There is no better time than on Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women in STEM, to bring these issues to the forefront. The comments that Trump has made may be reflective of a small slice of society which thinks it is acceptable to objectify and disrespect women, but, the world of politics must be as proactive as the world of science in eradicating these ignorant and intolerable attitudes.

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