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Driving Diversity, Closing the Gap: Celebrating International Day for Women and Girls in Science

Yaseera Ismail, OSA Ambassador, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The fourth industrial revolution dawns upon us and with that evokes a quintessential question, how do we, as women and girls in science, seek opportunities and be influential during this shift of science, technology and innovation? We are currently in an era where science and physical systems are fusing to develop emerging technology that is based on artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology and quantum computing. During this inspiring time, it is distinct that there is an under representation of women in STEM. One of the key factors being that women experience many roadblocks and hurdles in a male-dominated field. This, however, has not derailed us from excelling in science and building a future we all can be proud of; this includes my experience as a young, emerging research in technology innovation. Over the years, I have learnt to push boundaries and seize opportunities.
The United Nations has declared the 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, to promote females in STEM. As we celebrate this day, how can we transform our viewpoint and foster change to transform the scientific community?  

Early stage development: The curiosity for STEM should be encouraged at a young age. Igniting the interest of the youth comes into play as early as school level or maybe even prior. Exposing youngsters to STEM programs, which are interactive, and technology driven will provide a holistic opinion of a future researcher or engineer. Providing prospective through public talks in STEM and moving away from the stereotypically thinking and implicit bias. This will cultivate a change in the way we all view our career decisions.  
Seizing opportunities: With the exposure to information, realising the potential of a career in STEM has never been easier. The integration of systems with open source hardware and software has made the learning curve in STEM stimulating and hands-on. You can effortlessly build a step-by-step low cost system to understand the fundamentals of STEM related techniques. There is also a misconception that only ‘smart’ individuals are qualified to be in STEM. In my opinion, however, anyone can progress in the field as long as you are passionate, have the perseverance and drive to succeed.
Mentorship: Finding time in our hectic schedules is challenging, however, volunteering to mentor an aspiring emerging scientist or engineer through a career in STEM can be as fruitful to yourself as it would be for them. From experience, I have learnt that certain aspects of your career choices becomes less daunting if you have support system in place to turn to for advice. Most successful scientist and engineer will endorse that throughout their career they had the guidance from mentors.
Encouraging women in leadership positions: It is pivotal to encourage females in STEM fields to attain positions of influence, as this will inspire youth to embark in a STEM related careers. Women leaders excel in collaboration, humility and innovation.  Organisations can close the gap by encouraging women into leadership roles such as heading a research group or managing influential projects.
As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, take up the challenge to make one change towards promoting females in STEM. This could be as simple as instilling a young girl with the passion for STEM or becoming a mentor for an aspiring female scientist or engineer.
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