It’s International Women’s Day!
What better occasion to talk about the impact women have had in academia in the past, present, and will continue to have in the future.
Considering in this part of the world women were systematically disadvantaged for most of history (and still to this date face difficulties across different areas of life) it is sometimes hard to believe how far we have come in academia despite all odds. The most recent figures (2020/2021) show that women make up roughly 56% of initial participants in higher education in the UK. This means there are more women entering higher education than men, roughly 44%. (Of course, the obvious flaw with these statistics is that they omit other gender identities, but they give a good idea of the gender distribution in academia.)
While these numbers are promising, they don’t paint a full picture, as women face multiple challenges in and beyond academia. Gender pay gap, similarity bias, workplace harassment, you name it. The progress we are making is nowhere close to completion but there are hints and signs of hope that we can hold on to.
Let’s have a look at some notable women in academia.
Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer. It might be unexpected that this now male-dominated field was pioneered by a woman in the 19th century. By writing the first algorithm, the “Enchantress of Numbers” as she was called by her colleague Charles Babbage, she has revolutionised the playing field for the decades and centuries to come.
Simone de Beauvoir
Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher of the 20th century, famous for her contribution to feminism and feminist theory. In her dissertation, the second sex, she argues that “one is not born but becomes a woman” (Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 267). With this she first argued what is later studied as the sex-gender distinction, a field that has become increasingly relevant in research and inclusive, everyday life.
Kimberlé Crenshaw is a leading scholar of critical race theory and civil rights advocate. Her most notable contribution is her introduction to and development of intersectional theory, which is now widely used throughout academia and beyond. This theory observes how different social identities can overlap and intersect, making individuals targets of multiple layers of oppression.
Who is the woman in academia that you want to honour today, on International Woman’s Day? Let us know in the comments!
Anna Rezk is a 2nd year PhD researcher in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the BBC R&D. Her research revolves around the implication of personalised and highly customisable public service media content and how it can be leveraged to promote inclusive and democratic civic participation. Due to her background in journalism and computer science, she is particularly interested in news, and how content can be algorithmically enhanced and curated without thwarting editorial intent. Find her on Twitter as @anna_rezk.