February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Joining the initiative, which promotes gender equality in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers, the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) has released a video featuring six of its scientists who list the reasons why women should become scientists, and invite audiences to join the campaign in social media using the hashtag #HazteCientífica (#BecomeAWomanScientist).
Video (with English subtitles):
“To advance knowledge.” María Casanova-Acebes, immunologist, Leader of the Cancer Immunity Group
“To put an end to the fear and suffering caused by disease.” Ana Losada, biochemist, Head of the Chromosome Dynamics Group
“To face global challenges.” Marisol Soengas, molecular biologist, Head of the Melanoma Group
“Because science leads to a better understanding of the world.” Núria Malats, epidemiologist, Head of the Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology Group
“Because science is part of the common good.” Solip Park, computational biologist, Head of the Computational Cancer Genomics Group
“Because you can change the world.” Maria A. Blasco, molecular biologist, Head of the Telomeres and Telomerase Group and CNIO Director
That gender-based discrimination influences career choice is not just a perception. It is a phenomenon confirmed in a growing number of studies (1). In school, children are under the influence of stereotypes from an early age – stereotypes reinforced by the absence of women in textbooks and the different ways in which boys and girls are educated for leadership and competition.
“There is a critical time during school years,” Blasco says, “when girls with an interest in science need to get support to develop their skills, to be shown female role models and to discover the potential of careers in the STEM field to solve everyday problems. Otherwise, they may come to believe that they do not have the ability to do research and choose other career paths instead. The world of the future cannot afford to miss all this talent.”
Thus, women should be represented as career role models, mentoring programmes should be implemented and other initiatives should be taken to boost girls’ confidence in their ability to pursue a career in the STEM field and to strengthen emerging careers.
To deal with these issues at the CNIO, there is a special Women in Science Office (WISE) whose coordinator is Isabel López de Silanes. The WISE Office is aimed at achieving and securing gender equality in science by promoting awareness and bridging the gender gap in research careers at the CNIO. Among other activities, in 2019, the WISE Office and the CNIO & The City educational programme released a video which, based on a simile with video games, drew attention to the challenges faced by women – more than those faced by men – in developing a professional career from school to university to the working world. These challenges – prejudices, biases and barriers – keep women trapped between the so-called “sticky floor” and the well-known “glass ceiling”.
(1) Reference studies:
- ‘Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’, Science
- ‘The Effects of Gender Stereotypic and Counter-Stereotypic Textbook Images on Science Performance’, The Journal of Social Psychology
- ‘Gender and competition in adolescence: task matters’, Experimental Economics
- ‘“Someone Like Me can be Successful”: Do College Students Need Same-Gender Role Models?’, Psychology of Women Quarterly
- ‘STEMing the Tide: Using Ingroup Experts to Inoculate Women’s Self-Concept in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
About the CNIO
The CNIO is a Spanish public institution dedicated to the research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and affiliated to the Carlos III Institute of Health (Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities). It is one of the 10 leading cancer research centres in the world (Scimago Institutions Rankings World Report; Nature Index) and covers the entire R&D and Innovation spectrum, from basic research to the clinic, with a view to transferring the results quickly and efficiently to the National Health System and to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology market.
The CNIO has an Experimental Therapeutics Program that covers the initial stages of the development of drugs directed against the therapeutic targets its scientists are working on. Some of the CNIO’s compounds have been licensed to international pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the CNIO is actively involved in ‘open innovation’ programs of international pharmaceutical companies, which has resulted in an influx of more than 25 million euros into the CNIO in the past 6 years. Finally, three spin-off companies have emerged from the CNIO, which have also allowed patients to benefit from the centre’s developments. These data reflect the Institution’s commitment to innovation and technology transfer and illustrate the importance of public-private collaboration for the advancement in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Moreover, the CNIO strives to bring science closer to society through initiatives like CNIO Arte, a project that gathers scientists and artists in the creation of a work of art based on scientific research, or CNIO Friends, a philanthropic platform where individuals, companies and organisations can make contributions to help cancer research at the Centre; the funds raised have facilitated the establishment of a competitive ‘CNIO Friends’ International Contract Programme to engage research talent.