#WomenInSTEM: can a twitter campaign lead to change?


If you didn’t see it already, last week we put together a social media campaign in honour of the first International Day of Girls and Women in Science. With our main IOP news account (@physicsnews) and our Stimulating Physics Network account (@takeonphysics), and a bit of help along the way, we launched a campaign that saw some pretty remarkable results.

The campaign was pretty straightforward: we wanted people to print off our poster (here) and write on the poster who their favourite female scientist is. We then wanted them to take a photo with the poster, and tweet it to us, so we could then share all of the wonderful women people said inspired them.


We also encouraged any tweets containing the images to also feature the hashtag #WomenInSTEM – a well-worn hashtag but also one that has proved popular time and time again. By mid-morning of 11 February, #WomenInSTEM was the top trending subject in the UK, and also went on to become a top trend in the US too.

Accounts from organisations such as NASA, the Johnson Space Centre, Amnesty International and even the White House were all using the hashtag to join in on the discussion, ensuring the hashtag and our campaign continued to trend well into the late afternoon. Nearly 80,000 tweets were posted throughout the day using the hashtag, and hundreds of people had shared their photo and who their favourite female scientist is.

By the end of the day, we saw that tweets from our own account had amassed 357,244 impressions. Considering that’s the reach from one account alone taking part in the campaign, there is no doubt the campaign reached millions of people worldwide.

But why do the campaign at all? Jessica Rowson, a staff member at the IOP whose team came up with the campaign in the first place, wanted to improve the visibility of women who had already achieved amazing things in science but weren’t particularly well known, especially as women are still underrepresented in STEM.

I personally also didn’t want a campaign that simply saw people regurgitate the same facts about the same two or three women in science again and again, but instead wanted to get people talking about those women that don’t often get the credit they deserve. It was encouraging to see so many people talking about Caroline Hershel, Daphne Jackson, Fabiola Gianotti and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, but also people citing their lecturers, professors or teachers too, proving that women in science don’t have to be famous to be inspiring.

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The primary idea behind the campaign was simply to get people thinking about the women in science that inspired them, and talk about it with their colleagues, classmates, and everyone in between. Behind ach photo we shared we hoped that there was a conversation, discussing who these women were, what they did, and hopefully show that the world of science isn’t only for men.

However, we are always looking to encourage a greater number of women into science here at the IOP, and we hoped our campaign aided that too.

We attracted a bit of media attention on the day: a journalist from City AM was less than impressed with our efforts, citing the campaign as needing to be “more than a hashtag” to make meaningful change occur.

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In response to the line in the City AM article: “Hashtag activism is all well and good, but it is unlikely to result in transformative change”, I won’t claim that our campaign instantly drove up the number of women in STEM; as far as I am aware, our twitter activity didn’t result in women spontaneously appearing in labs up and down the country, looking slightly bewildered in a lab coat and holding a pipette.

But, as the article said, “we need to flip perceptions of STEM subjects on their heads”, and with one of those perceptions being that science isn’t suitable for girls, we wanted to provide a catalyst to get young girls talking about the women who have, despite this preconception, succeeded in STEM. Making sure we increase the visibility of women in STEM shows to schoolgirls that science isn’t just for boys, and our campaign set out to, and hopefully achieved, just that.

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Our campaign doesn’t end here, and there is always more to be done to both celebrate women in STEM and also address the gender imbalance that still persists today. You don’t need a social media campaign to do it either: continue the discussion in labs, classrooms, playgrounds, and anywhere else you’re likely to find female minds that still hold preconceptions about how STEM isn’t for them.

Let’s not confine the celebration of women and girls in science to one day only, but keep the momentum going – hopefully sometime in the future such a day will cease needing to exist entirely.

Staff from the IOP Publishing offices also got involved with the day (Photo: IOPP)

Want to see some more of photos from the day? You can read the storify here by Science Quines, and another by our IOP Publishing team here. You can also follow our IOP twitter account here.

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Philippa Skett

Philippa Skett

Media Officer at Institute of Physics
Philippa is the IOP's media officer, who oversees all of the social media associated with the organisation and also deals with external press enquirers.
Philippa Skett

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