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Nobel Prize emphasizes exclusion of women from STEM fields


Forty-nine out of 923. One out of 20. A mere 5 percent. According to Quartz, that’s the number of women that have received Nobel Prizes since the prize was founded in 1901.

On Oct. 2, physicist Donna Strickland became the third woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics out of 209 recipients, and the first one to do so in 55 years. Although her win may be an inspiration for the next generation of female scientists, it also points to a larger problem about the exclusion of women, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) professions. As the Nobel Prize is widely considered the top honor in numerous areas of study, the Nobel Prize committee should make more of an effort to highlight the achievements of women.

While sexism is prevalent in nearly every sphere, it is especially notable in STEM fields. According to Pew Research Center, 50 percent of women in STEM have experienced gender discrimination on the job, and according to the National Science Board, women only occupy 30 percent of STEM jobs.

The issue is not just contained in statistics–it manifests itself in our lives, with real consequences. According to the New York Post, just days before the Nobel Prize winners were announced, CERN physicist Alessandro Strumia gave a speech saying that physics was solely created by men, and according to Vox, before Strickland won the Nobel Prize, she did not even have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her, although her male colleagues did.

Even in Staples, the effects of sexism in STEM are evident. Many science classes and math classes, particularly higher-leveled ones, are dominated by males.

Erasing sexism in STEM is an ongoing endeavor that has already taken centuries and will continue to take even more time in the future––the values and processes that perpetuate it are simply too deeply ingrained in our society. However, we can further the movement by changing how Nobel Prizes, a symbol of those values and processes, are awarded.

According to the New York Times, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has already announced that they will be changing the nomination guidelines for the prize to ensure greater diversity of winners in the future. Another way would be to completely redesign the Nobel Prize to award teams of researchers or the discoveries themselves, allowing the women who contributed to the discoveries to be recognized without having to compete with men to be one of only three people awarded the prize each year–after, most, if not all scientific discoveries are group efforts.

The Nobel Prize has a unique influence on the STEM community, and a larger effort to reduce sexism regarding the prize will be a significant step in the overall fight against gender equality.


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