Tackling the gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in light of the current coronavirus pandemic will be the focus of an international research project involving University of the West of Scotland (UWS) academics.

The FemaleINSPIRES project (International Network and Support Platform for Interdisciplinary Research Engineers/Scientists), led by UWS’s Dr Evi Viza, will create an online support platform for female STEM early career researchers from Development Assistance Committee countries. The work will be supported through a £20,000 Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) grant.

Dr Viza said: “In STEM, where women are already underrepresented, the pressures of the pandemic are set to widen an existing gap.

“The Royal Academy of Engineering grant will enable us to create a network and a platform for women in STEM to collaborate, share ideas, seek support and much more during what has been an incredibly challenging time throughout the sector.”

– Dr Evi Viza

The RAEng Engineering X Pandemic Preparedness grant scheme is designed to support the global engineering community to learn from the current COVID-19 pandemic through global sharing of lessons on disruptive solutions and best practice approaches in the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from pandemics.

The gender imbalance in STEM has been a constant in both industry and academia for years, and early studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a further adverse effect on the professional and personal lives of women worldwide.

The platform will provide peer-to-peer support with focus on researchers in Malawi, Ghana, Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Kazakhstan in the first instance, and then explore expanding the initiative globally.

Challenges and Solutions

A dedicated website will host activities and an online survey will collect data on challenges and solutions that female STEM early career researchers (ECRs) face in light of the current pandemic. Online workshops will focus on ECR professional career development and emotional wellbeing, writing retreats, mentoring, peer review of research proposals and development of collaborations.

Dr Michele Cano, Head of Engineering at UWS and a member of the FemaleINSPIRES project team, added: “Equality and diversity is essential in any line of work or field of research, and STEM is no different. At UWS, we have a true commitment to ensuring equality and diversity at all levels, and the FemaleINSPIRES project will help us to take this to a global scale.”

The project will run as a collaboration between UWS and academics from Coventry University, the International Science Complex Astana, Ghana Technological University College, Malawi Polytechnic, the Research Center for Oceanography at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Cairo University and Abuja University in Nigeria.