STEM talent women: scientifically needed for the challenges of the 21st century

On the occasion of the World Day of Women and Girls in Science, several parteners of Hiperbaric analyze the visibility of women in STEM areas, and praise initiatives such as the STEM Talent Girl program, of which the company is a member, to promote scientific and technical vocations among young women.

Did you know that the scientist Marie Curie had to share her first Nobel Prize with her husband (she won it twice) because the organization of the award did not allow it to be only for her as a woman? Or that the first computer programmer in history, the British women Ada Lovelace, had to live in the shadow of her mentor Charles Babbage? We all know of Neil Armstrong’s feat as the first man to set foot on the moon, but his deed would not have been possible without the calculations of three Afroamerican women: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. And what about the extraordinary discoveries about the DNA of the recently deceased biochemist Margarita Salas, who never won the Princess of Asturias Prize and who fought so hard for the visibility of women in science.

Throughout history, the absence of female references in the field of Science, Technology, and Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), has influenced the invisibility of many of the achievements of women. But, little by little, this reality is improving.

Since 2015, 11 February has been celebrated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, declared by the United Nations. What is the reason for marking a date on the calendar that links women to the fields of technology and science?

The answer lies in the surprising and thought-provoking figures: a UNESCO report points to gender inequality in STEM education. In higher education, in 2018 only 35% of students enrolled in STEM-related careers were women, and women represent only 28% of researchers worldwide. This is the best figure recorded to date. Another telling statistic provided by the February 11 Initiative is that only 7% of girls will be seen in science or technology careers in the future.

This was one of the reasons why the STEM TALENT GIRL program was created to encourage scientific and technological vocations among young women. Hiperbaric is part of this initiative with visits to the company, sessions with mentors and workshops to get to know the world’s leading technology with High Pressure Processing (HPP), developed by the Burgos-based multinational.

“It is key to form female STEM vocations not only because they are equally capable as men to develop 4.0 talent, which contributes to satisfy the demand of technological and digital profiles, but also because they normally do it with a slightly different vision from the male one, which enriches the organizations a lot. Diversity is always an added bonus”, says Maite Castrillejo, Director of People at Hiperbaric. Laura Temiño, industrial engineer of Hiperbaric and mentor of STEM Talent Girl, highlights that the program fulfills a very necessary task.

Company colleagues with STEM degrees.

Company colleagues with STEM degrees.

The advance of women in professions traditionally occupied by men shows the improvements that have taken place in the last two decades: in 1990, telecommunications engineering was 4% compared to 21% today, according to figures from the Official Association of Telecommunications Engineers of Spain. Such was the case of Rebeca Corralejo, doctor in this degree and manager of R&D Projects in Hiperbaric: “I chose the technical career because of the challenge it represented”.  She encourages young women to stay, “and to think that they will have enough capacity to do it”. In the case of Rebeca Ruiz, doctor of Chemistry and head of R&D Management at the company, she recalls that it was a high school teacher who encouraged her to opt for a scientific career, highlighting the importance of teachers in student motivation. María José García, doctor of Industrial Engineering and mechanical engineer at Hiperbaric, decided to study her career as a challenge: “I saw the kids and told myself that I could do it too. I have always had a competitive edge”.

In the words of the industrial engineer Yara Gómez, responsible for the Automation and Control Department at Hiperbaric, her motivation for choosing a technical career, as well as her interest in technology, the personal and intellectual fulfilment that comes with being challenged every day. Women with talent, capacity and initiative in equal parts.

“And the winner is…” Awards and prizes

The presence of women continues to be “disproportionately low” with respect to nominations and awards for science, according to one of the most striking reports from the CSIC, where women only receive 18% of the science awards in Spain. However, in Hiperbaric we have a whole example of recognized talent. Carole Tonello, doctor in Food Technology and world expert in High Pressure, is the director of the Commercial and Food Applications department of Hiperbaric. She has won some of the most prestigious awards in her field, such as the IFT from the Institute of Food Technologist or the Women Alliance Network award.

“To get a prize there’s a component of selling yourself, and in general men do it better. They compete against other men, while women are still hesitant to compete with men, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” she says. Tonello says that throughout her professional career, her experience in science popularization has been very positive, since she started giving conferences and participating in congresses on High Pressure Technology at a very young age: “in my case, I have always found a favorable and positive attitude for being a woman”.

The reality is that the scarce visibility of women in science and technology in our society, as well as the existence of stereotypes (we have an image of scientists that is primarily male), causes little interest in science among girls and young women. “The media occasionally carry out campaigns to showcase the work of women in technology, but in general, when you have to have an expert in the field you turn to a man,” says Tonello.

Marta Onrubia, a graduate in Food Technology and responsible for Technical Sales at Hiperbaric, puts the focus on the problem of prejudices that have been dragging on for centuries. Gender stereotypes continue to keep women away from science-related fields, as well as men from areas that have traditionally been occupied by their partners. “Seeing a nurse or a man as a midwife is still treated as something strange and we should eradicate that social stigma”.

Hiperbaric, committed to the diversity of talent

In Hiperbaric, a company with 100% industrial and technological DNA, the presence of women in all areas of the company has been in force throughout its 20 years of history. Of its more than 120 employees, 21% of the staff is currently female and holds positions in all areas of the company where a scientific or technological qualification is required, such as industrial or computer engineering, R&D and food applications; and in the sales, marketing or finance departments, areas in which there has traditionally been a greater presence of women.

Hiperbaric also has three women occupying top management positions (composed of 12 directors), which means 25%, being above the average in Spain in industrial companies (located at 7%, and in similar figures to those of other sectors), and thus becoming an industrial company of reference with female presence in management positions.

And in this way, we are celebrating 11 February to dismantle gender stereotypes in Science and Technology, knowing that we must promote the talent of both men and women so that we can all rise to the exciting scientific and technological challenges that the 21st century will bring.

Margarida Rodrigues, an expert in Industrial Biotechnology, and Patricia López, specializing in Food Technology, are the latest two STEM women to join the company. Ángeles Ruiz is part of Hiperbaric's delegation in Miami.  

Margarida Rodrigues, an expert in Industrial Biotechnology, and Patricia López, specializing in Food Technology, are the latest two women to join the company. Ángeles Ruiz is part of Hiperbaric’s delegation in Miami.

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