Europe needs more scientists. Women are still under represented in fields like engineering, science, mathematics and computing. So it makes sense to try and increase the pool of female talent available in these areas, to get more young women thinking about a career in the sciences.
We would not go about it like this:
The video is the official trailer for an initiative from the EU Commission, Science: It’s a Girl Thing!, aimed at showing teenage girls what a life in the lab can offer them.
It’s pink. It features a lot of close-up shots of shoes, nails and make-up. The three women playing the scientists strut about like catwalk models. The final logo shows the ‘i’ in science replaced with a lipstick.
Unsurprisingly, the video has attracted a lot of negative online comments. YouTube user winklesl said: “What were they thinking?!! I'm a female scientist who spends a lot of my spare time encouraging girls into science and engineering careers. This is just offensive to the nth degree.” Fellow commenter twistedlilkitty left the following sarcastic message: “I like to spend my day in the lab laughing, putting on nail varnish, writing 'Brian Cox is dreamy' over and over in my lab book instead of doing experiments or publishing my work.”
“This part of the campaign is aimed at girls in secondary school,” said Michael Jennings, the research, innovation and science spokesperson for the EU Commission. “We tested quite a few different things with focus groups and they really liked this one. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but we haven’t yet had any teenage girls say it’s patronising.”
The wider campaign does show signs of hope, with a Facebook page featuring a timeline of high-achieving women and video interviews with female scientists from various fields.
“We’re not saying teenage girls are only care about cosmetics and music, but they are areas many of them do care about and we hoped we would attract them to the more serious side of the campaign that way,” said Michael Jennings.
We really do hope the campaign achieves its wider aims, but can we put in a plea for scientists who are good at testing hypothesises and making calculations, rather than those who just look hot in a pair of glasses?