Black and white, vintage photo depicting a crowd of women holding a big banner with text: Women of the world unite!

Women's History Month 2021

Wednesday 24 February 2021 16:21

Women have fought for progress and equality for centuries but significant progress has been made over the last hundred years. To understand how we got where we are today, it’s important to remember the women that paved the way. 

  • 1909: First observance of Women’s Day in New York 
  • 1911: First International Women’s Day observed
  • 1975: The United Nations recognizes and adopts International Women’s Day
  • 1980: President Jimmy Carter formalizes the first National Women’s History Week 
  • 1987: Congress passes legislation to formalize the first Women’s History Month

Why do we celebrate Women's History Month in March? Read all about it here

Women in Science

In 2014, Marguerite del Giudice was writing for National Geographic  that "according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, women in fields commonly referred to as STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) made up 7 percent of that workforce in 1970, a figure that had jumped to 23 percent by 1990. But the rise essentially stopped there. Two decades later, in 2011, women made up 26 percent of the science workforce."

It's not that women aren't wanted. "I don't know any institution today that is not trying to hire more women scientists and engineers," says one science historian. But many cultural forces continue to stand in the way—ranging from girls being steered toward other professions from an early age and gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace to the potentially career-stalling effects on women of having children.

So what difference does it make when there is a lack of women in science? For one, it means women might not get the quality of health care that men receive.

For generations, the model used in biomedical research to design drugs and products for everyone has been predicated on the physiology of an average-size male, historically the standard reference figure in Gray's Anatomy, the medical textbook first published in the 1850s.

Even the rats (and other animals) used in scientific experiments have mainly been male. For years, many researchers were concerned that hormone fluctuations in female animals would skew the results of tests, and simply assumed that males could be used to reliably predict effects in both men and women. As a result, "sex, the biggest variable, has not been systematically evaluated and reported in the same way as variables like time, temperature, and dose, even in diseases that are female dominated," says Teresa K. Woodruff, director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University.

Read more here.

Celebrating WHM at Imperial

Imperial College's "Women at Imperial" series of events is back this year and it looks amazing - tune in from 8 to 12 March for a week full of lectures, awards and talks aiming to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality.

In the UK, women can vote, have any job they like, and even become prime minister and run the country - and all of this was made possible by the incredible women who fought to prove strength, intelligence and curiosity don't reside just in the male body. If you're curious to find out more about the rich legacy of women in science, technology, medicine and business who have studied and worked at Imperial since its inception, read about it here.