Jessica Wade’s efforts are part of a personal campaign to not only give women scientists the recognition they deserve, but also to encourage young women to pursue careers in science, engineering, technology and mathematics.
Wade, 33, has become a recognizable figure through her advocacy work, receiving an invitation to Buckingham Palace to receive the British Empire Medal and a citation from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia.
Wade has also faced her share of critics. Other Wikipedia contributors and editors have deleted several of her posts — one of which was a profile of Clarice Phelps, a young African-American nuclear chemist whose team discovered a new periodic-table element at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — under the reasoning that many of the women she profiled were not well-known.
That was exactly the problem, Wade retaliated. These women, she said, should be better known.
She defended her profile of Phelps, and it is now back on Wikipedia for good.
To achieve gender equality in STEM, Wade says more work is needed in schools, where girls don’t need “whiz-bang” experiments but rather mentors who can help them prepare applications for admissions, grants and fellowships.
“People assume girls don’t choose science because they’re not inspired,” Wade told Today.com. “Girls are already interested. It’s more about making students aware of the different careers in science and getting parents and teachers on board.”
Encouraging girls to choose STEM careers is half the battle. According to Wade, encouraging girls and women to stay in STEM careers presents an even bigger challenge.
According to the American Association of University Women, women in STEM earn $60,000 a year, compared with $85,000 for men.
Studying and working in STEM can be even more challenging for mothers, which is why Wade wants universities to provide affordable child care on campus and for conference organizers to provide daycare.
She also implores schools to implement better policies to target bullying and sexual harrassment that may discourage women from pursuing fields in which they are a minority (Women make up only 28 percent of the U.S. workforce in STEM, according to the AAUW.)
“The world desperately needs more scientists and engineers,” Wade said. “Science can help solve the world’s biggest challenges — climate change, antibiotic resistance, emerging pandemic-inducing viruses.”
Meanwhile, Wade’s own Wikipedia profile — written by others — has grown to 10 printed pages.