May 17, 2023
During the first day of the event ‘Engaging Science with and for Youth’, two WBC-RRI.NET working groups (WG1 Gender and Ethics and WG2 Science Education and Public Engagement) held a joint, cross-WG meeting. The meeting was focusing on the cross-sectional topics related to gender, science education, public engagement and science communication. WG1 and WG2 members held short pitch presentations, followed by a fruitful discussion.
First topic on how to improve gender equality in STEM and R&I was presented by a WG1 member, Katarina Pavlovic from the Faculty of Project and Innovation Management. Katarina first introduced the issue of gender biases and their significant impact on people’s opportunities, experiences, and overall well-being, particularly in fields as STEM and R&I where women have historically been underrepresented. Such biases are reflected as hiring bias, stereotyping women, promotion bias, publication bias, funding bias, less women enrolling in STEM fields studies and smaller retention rates in STEM for women. Based on the different research results as well as the experiences in the professional and academic sphere, she presented the possible steps on how to encourage girls and women to pursue STEM career. First of all, it is important to recognize and address gender bias in order to promote equality and diversity in all aspects of society. Thus, encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects through role models exposure, mentorship support from other women, gendered course content, networking (such as the Female Net / Women in Web3) and enabling collaboration opportunities, is an essential step towards addressing the issue of female underrepresentation in STEM. Another step is also to increase female representation in STEM and R&I through different programmes and initiatives such as scholarships, associations, angel investors in business (business angels) who would invest in female-led start-ups. However, this has to be accompanied by policies at the national (and wider) as well as organisational level through policies that promote gender equality as well as strategies promoting gender equality at the workplace level. Finally, encouraging male allies (as opposite to ‘men’s artillery’) who support their female peers and work in partnership with women to uproot and transform harmful gender relations and stereotypes is essential. There are different initiatives that serve as an example, such as UN Women – HeForShe Movement and Male Allies Program – adapted to UBS in Switzerland 2020. However, there is no similar showcase in the Western Balkans yet.
Kelly Pasmatzi from SEERC, a member of both WG1 and WG2, discussed the Gender Dimension in Public Engagement. As a starting point, the emphasis was given to the notion that ‘public engagement activities are based on the values of inclusion, mutual respect, integrity, freedom and democratic decision-making’ (2010 Statement by the Institute of Education, London as cited in Watson et al., 2011). Given the inclusiveness feature of public engagement, the logical question of the relevance of gender in it has to be posed. Thus, the focus was on the three levels of gender relevance in public engagement: researcher’s gender, gendered public and knowledge on the gender dimension, as well as on the connection of public engagement to civic engagement and gender. In all three levels, the various studies have shown that women engage less or are less likely to be called as experts in academia-industry knowledge exchanges, there is an evident gender gap in data, but also many phenomena keep revealing themselves as gendered yet gender is not consistently studied. Public engagement is closely-knit to civic engagement and gender, as universities are increasingly called upon to work towards the improvement of local, national and global communities, e.g. empowering under-represented groups, including women and generating and communicating knowledge relevant to under-represented groups, including women.
Finally, Fiorda Llukmani from ZSI, as a member of WG2, has presented on the topic of Science Communication in the Age of Misinformation. The main focus of the presentation was on the issue of misinformation and how it affects the everyday life and decisions (example of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic) and how good science communication can counteract this problem. Misinformation is a challenge for science communication as it can often lead to mistrust in scientific community and research-based results. Thus, science communication is essential in combating misinformation as it allows and helps researchers build the trust-relationship with the public. Strategies for effective science communication include usage of clear and simple language, storytelling techniques to engage the audience and make science more relatable and interesting, usage of visuals to illustrate the main points, as well as providing the context, e.g. explaining in plain language why the research matters and how it relates to real-world challenges and issues. Useful resources and webinars on effective science communication have also been shared.
Presentations were followed by a fruitful discussion on different aspects of gender dimension in STEM and STEM education, as well as retention with emphasis that there has been little or none research on the issue of retention of women in STEM in the WBC. Furthermore, different dimensions of misinformation including the academic integrity, as well as usage of ChatGPT and how to educate on the proper usage of AI were also emphasised in the discussion. The meeting concluded by common agreement that there should be a cross-WG group working on a pilot research on gender bias in STEM and retention of women in STEM fields focused on the Western Balkan countries.
Watson, D., Hollister, R., Stroud, S. E. and Babcok E. (2011). The Engaged University: International perspectives on civic engagement. London: Routledge.
This article was prepared by Andjela Pepic (UNIBL).