When Uta Wille was working towards her PhD in Germany in the late 1980’s, she swiftly learnt that being a young woman in a scientific field required resilience. Her research group was a sea of twenty men. Her supervisor told her male colleagues to ‘treat her like a raw egg and throw her into hot water’. The only woman amongst them, she had to navigate a challenging environment.

Stereotypes, gender culture, and fewer role models has perpetuated a gender gap in STEM. Dr Wille, now Professor of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, wants female students to feel represented in chemistry and more broadly in STEM. “Female students thrive with female role models who demonstrate that women can be truly successful contributors and leaders in scientific fields and academia” explains Dr Wille.

With equal representation, both in the classroom and through our textbooks, we can influence the balance for women in STEM and help female students continue to thrive.

Enhancing female representation in STEM

Diversity and inclusivity is a topic being discussed in many disciplines. Chemistry is no different. While increasing numbers of females are drawn to STEM, there is still under-representation of women – in their peers, their teachers, and in the role models they can aspire to.

Dr Wille explains that it’s natural for any minority to question whether something is an accessible and viable pursuit if they don’t see role models they feel a connection with. “If our female students don’t see someone like them in a position of a PhD candidate or a University Professor, they may choose another pathway, feeling perhaps science is not for them.”

There are hundreds upon hundreds of women who are making contributions to the science of chemistry – not just in the past, but in the present day as well. Dr Wille, a member of the author team for Blackman’s Chemistry (5th Ed), has taken on the worthy task of ensuring representation of female scientists in our textbook.

The next edition of Blackman’s Chemistry will have even more coverage on the contributions of women. Dr Wille reminds us “it’s not difficult to find successful female scientists to showcase discoveries in Chemistry” – it’s a matter of publishers and authors not falling back on traditional examples that have predominantly been male.

Modern Day role models

At the highest level of scientific recognition sits the Nobel Prize. In Chemistry it has been awarded 113 times to 188 Nobel Prize laureates since 1901, but only seven women sit amongst these. But female laureates are increasingly being recognised for discoveries in Chemistry – in fact four women in the last twelve years:

Frances Arnold

Awarded the Nobel Prize in 2018 for her work on directed evolution of enzymes.