Hidden Women in Science

Hidden Women in Science

There is a phenomenon known as the Matilda Effect that hurts many women in STEM fields. It is defined as the refusal to acknowledge scientific discoveries made by female researchers, and it has allowed men to take credit for women’s work for decades.

For example, in the late 1800s, Nettie Stevens made many groundbreaking findings, including the fact that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes. Taking credit for this finding, however, was Thomas Hunt Morgan, who was incorrectly credited for the discovery.

Along with the lack of acknowledgement is the fact that there are fewer women hired for scientific research positions – UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) notes that only 29% of all employed scientific researchers were women, and 3% of all Scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.

The gap is present in salaries as well: According to the US National Science Foundation’s annual census (2017), male researchers with PhDs are expected to earn a median annual salary of $88,000 dollars, compared to $70,000 dollars that women at the same educational level. And women with PhDs are more often hired for positions in academia rather than science research.

Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of organizations working to advance women in science, including the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, on which Chrysalis has participated. Girl Scouts, the Science Center of Iowa, Des Moines University, and other organizations target girls to involve them in hand-on activities and introduce them to female science professionals.

Over 5 years ago, Chrysalis developed WISE-5 (Women Innovating in STEM Education) to engage Chrysalis After-School program participants in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through hands-on activities. In partnership with DuPont Pioneer (now Corteva), Principal Financial Group, and ISU Women in Science and Engineering involved hundreds of after-school participants with STEM professionals and students to develop career interest, build awareness and self-confidence their own STEM abilities, and affect attitudes about gender roles in STEM careers.

Evaluations of WISE-5 participants in 5th grade after-school programs showed significant results during the program’s first year: 

Think about what you currently know about jobs in science, and then think about whether or not you might like to have this type of job when you grow up.





I am very interested in a job in science.



I may be interested in a job in science but need more information.



I am unsure if I’m interested in a job in science.



I know about jobs in science and am interested.



I do know about jobs in science, but am not interested.



*Excerpt from Chrysalis After-School Evaluation Report, Censeo Solutions, Inc.

We know that if we want equality in this field and others, we need to develop young girls’ interest in STEM early, and support them throughout this journey so that they can earn recognition for their work, obtain research positions, and be awarded for their contributions to science. For Chrysalis, WISE-5 is just one way be begin the movement.