We Tell Their Stories
Emma Hussain highlights Dr Jess Wade, a scientist who writes Wikipedia entries about other women in science
I t’s an unfortunate, often-lamented fact that science is a male-dominated field. Every year, millions of pounds are poured into initiatives to encourage ‘women in STEM’, and yet the problems aren’t going away. Imperial College London’s Dr Jess Wade, a researcher in plastic electronics, is on a mission to change that.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2018, Wade expressed her disappointment with existing initiatives to recruit more women into science: “Absolutely none of them is evidence-based and none of them work. It’s so unscientific, that’s what really surprises me.” Reacting to this disappointment, Wade looked back to her outreach engagement undertaken as a PhD candidate, when she would give talks in schools to encourage girls to pursue sciences. She knew, for example, that speaking to parents and teachers as well as to students was essential.
the movement begins when we simply say her name
Another key tenet of Dr Wade’s method of encouraging women into science was to draw focus onto under-appreciated women in science. She has written over 270 Wikipedia articles (other estimates suggest over 400) about women in the field: “Professors feel really empowered when they’ve got one,” she says. Wade tries to write a Wikipedia article every day, and has profiled a huge range of women from climate scientists to prominent mathematicians. She has also hosted regular “edit-a-thons”, where people create and edit new Wikipedia content while putting inclusivity at centre-stage. Considering the general public’s reliance on Wikipedia for general knowledge, the impact of 90% of its editors being men is significant: fewer women and non-binary subjects get profiled. Prominent feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw has argued that recognition like Wade’s is a vital step towards equality, stating, “the movement begins when we simply say her name”.
This recognition has well-deservedly become cyclical for Dr Wade. In the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to gender diversity in science. Thanks to the work of she and her colleagues, the erasure of female scientists like Rosalind Franklin (look her up!) from science history is coming to an end.