5 mins read 11 Feb 2021

Supporting Women in Science

Around the world, the 11 February is celebrated as the United Nations declared International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Astronomy Ph.D. student Kat Ross discusses support methods for organisations and individuals for this important day.

Ruby Payne-Scott standing outside Sydney University. Credit: CSIRO ATNF Historical Photographic Archive: B2842-43.

Today marks the 6th annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year's theme? Women scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. 

Duly deserved international recognition of some truly incredible women in science yet it required a global crisis and pandemic for these scientists to be seen and acknowledged. But women in science are here 365 days of the year, too often overlooked, ignored and actively pushed out of science. 

Today marks a day where organisations throw a special lunch for all the women, call it a day and ignore all the reasons why we even have a day devoted to women and girls in science. We may be outnumbered, but women are by no means outdone.

There are countless statistics I could throw in to highlight the systemic discrimination women in astronomy face; our underrepresentation in high academic positions and in the STEM workforce, the gender pay gap between women and men, the higher levels of Imposter Syndrome, sexual harassment and assault. The list goes on and on. 

These issues are compounded when considering the intersection with other minorities, for example black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) earn even less than their white women colleagues.

Ultimately, any of this information is just a short google search away and it is not the duty of women in astronomy to educate everyone who can simply read the stats for themselves. 

To me, and all other women in astronomy, these aren’t just stats. 

This is our everyday existence. 

These are not issues we can choose to ignore because they’re difficult or inconvenient that day. This is our life.

So, what should today be about? How can allies and organisations make today actually help women and girls in science? 


Whether it’s online, in a blog, a conference or casually over a coffee, listen to the experiences of women and marinate with it. Take a second to empathise and consider how this contributes to our lived experiences in science. 

Provide support 

Women are more likely to struggle with Imposter Syndrome, stereotype threat and lower levels of self-efficacy. This can have detrimental effects on our mental health. Every workplace should be promoting access to mental health services, whether it’s therapy services or providing safe spaces and networks to discuss these issues.  

Recognise ALL our work 

Women are far more likely to devote “spare time” to things like outreach, mentoring aspiring students and early career researchers, seminars - all of which involves lots of preparation work. his takes time and energy away from our research and work. Far too often, institutions ask the same women to give talks to help their apparent diversity. But this puts all the workload on the women giving countless talks that their home institution barely even recognise. 

Institutions rarely acknowledge any of this extra work when measuring “success” and “productivity”. It’s time to change the metrics we use to assess contributions and productivity, to recognise the extra work women are doing on the sidelines. 

Most importantly, don’t forget our existence after today. We do not have the luxury of only recognising these issues when it’s convenient, so please don’t sit back doing nothing just because that’s more convenient.

Editor’s Note

Thursday 11th February 2021 is the declared United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an event that has occurred since 2015 when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution A/RES/70/212.

The day is an opportunity for organisations, institutions, families and social groups to promote full and equal access, including participation, to women and girls across the world who are interested, working in or working towards areas of science. The day serves as a reminder that people who identify as women, make up a significant portion of the science and technology communities, and supporting their roles, education, careers and advancement serves the greater good to the wider society. 

In Australia, a National Evaluation Guide for STEM Gender Equity Programs has been produced by the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador (Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith), which includes a number of resources accessible to everyone. 

Additionally, the Australian Academy of Science has further ideas and resources that can be downloaded from the Women in STEM Decadal Plan

Kathryn Ross

Growing up, Kat used to watch the International Space Station going overhead with her family. Until she learned people live inside it and she became forever terrified of poop falling on her head from space. Thankfully, today Kat’s skills at staring up into the Universe have improved significantly.

She is now a Ph.D. candidate at Curtin University studying the baby black holes in the centres of distant galaxies trying to understand galaxy evolution and the history of our Universe. Kat has a background in optical interferometry of red giant stars, dark matter content of galaxies and physics education research. She is an activist for Women In STEM and works as a science communicator when not staring at distant baby black holes or fleeing from space poop.

Twitter: @astro_katross