Friday, July 5, 2019
The young Chilean woman who is working to promote women’s participation in STEM
Belén Guede has won many awards. Although she is only 20, this Universidad de Chile Information and Management Engineering student has already been chosen as one of Chile’s 100 youth leaders and has received numerous prizes and scholarships. In addition, Belén has been recognized by the civil society organization Comunidad Mujer and was the National Leader of Chile’s Delegation on the 2019 Ship for World Youth.
However, the main challenge that she has chosen to take on is clear: encouraging women to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.
This dream led her to found the youth organization STEM Academy, which is part of a Microsoft program. Its purpose is to promote educational technology and robotics communities with a focus on the Recoleta district of Santiago.
- What inspired your interest in STEM-related issues?
I got interested in technology because I was always curious. In high school, I always attended extracurricular activities like Ministry of Education English language camps, workshops, student robotics teams, etc. The most important experience for me was “Chile Va!,” a science and technology camp offered by the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research, CONICYT. One hundred young people had the opportunity to learn about science, technology and enterprise in the mountains in Cajón del Maipo. When I left there, I knew I wanted to go into a field that would allow me to combine technology, programming and management.
- What do Girls in Tech and STEM Academy do?
Girls in Tech is a global organization. The goal of the Chilean chapter is to identify, connect and raise the visibility of women who create technology in Chile so that they can serve as sources of inspiration and specific knowledge for other women. They develop and promote a series of activities, such as ADA Academy, which is a technology enterprise program that works with companies that are led or founded by women.
I work on a program called “Ingenious: Science and Technology for All,” which encourages girls to develop vocations in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
STEM Academy was set up because we needed to found and strengthen communities that celebrate science and technology. We create and build educational technology and robotics communities in the Recoleta district, where we have a permanent workshop at the Liceo Valentín Letelier school.
- How would you describe the current level of participation of women in STEM in Chile?
Specific data can be used to gauge the current level of participation of women in STEM in Chile. For example, the percentage of women students admitted to higher education programs related to STEM has improved in recent years, but the figures show we are worse off now than we were years ago.
Another piece of evidence is the percentage of women employees in science and technology companies. Finally, we can look at the number of female academics and researchers in these areas.
Now at least alternatives focused on girls have been created and there is awareness about them, and that is what works. There have also been campaigns to debunk myths and social stereotypes.
- What obstacles do women face when it comes to accessing STEM industries and careers?
There is a combination of elements including stereotypes and social behaviors that are still rooted in society. The idea that women are good at some things and men at others comes from ridiculous myths that date back to when women were relegated to domestic work with no access to basic rights. Unfortunately, a lot of things were taken away from women. We won the right to vote later, won access to university later - and only because of the idea that those were male spaces. The presence of a patriarchal society continues to impact us today.
- What do you think needs to be done now to continue to increase women’s inclusion in STEM?
I believe that we must increase visibility and start with girls, but also teach men, fathers and mothers, as they are often the ones who make decisions - sometimes without even realizing it - that end up working against or standing in the way of girls or women studying and working in these fields. If we want to make sure that it doesn’t take decades – as has been predicted - to achieve equality in the areas of salaries and participation, we have a lot of work to do.
Photo credit: Belén Guede