Researcher Marisa Tschopp on women in STEM professions

Why more women should be winning the Nobel Prize

Technology jobs offer excellent career prospects in our digital world, and yet the proportion of women in STEM professions is low. "The reasons for this are varied and complex," says AI expert Marisa Tschopp. 


Attractive pay, interesting work, and good career opportunities – and yet few women still choose to work in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions. According to UN figures, just 22% of female STEM graduates in Switzerland are women. In fact, the ratio of female to male students is significantly more balanced in poorer countries than in wealthy nations. Women generally tend to choose social professions.

Still a long way to go

The cliché that men are good at math and women at languages is still very much alive and is also reflected in career choices. "The reasons for this are varied and complex," says Marisa Tschopp, a 38-year-old researcher at scip AG. "It's not wrong to say that many women are afraid to take the plunge into a male domain." In addition, she cites parental professions as another crucial factor determining a woman's future career. "I see a great opportunity for our educational institutions," says Tschopp. "Our research institutes in Switzerland are among the best in the world. A lot is already being done to make STEM professions palatable to women. But there's still a long way to go." 


Marisa Tschopp lectures in IT on the Bachelor's program in artificial intelligence and machine learning at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. She is also Swiss ambassador and Chief Research Officer for the Women in AI nonprofit organization. As an associate researcher, she investigates AI from a psychological perspective at the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (IWM). In addition, Marisa Tschopp is a researcher at scip AG in Zurich. 

Proportion of women is shockingly low

Marisa Tschopp studied at various universities in Germany, Canada, and Switzerland. She holds a Master's degree in psychology of excellence in business and education as well as a Bachelor's in business psychology with a focus on market and consumer psychology. One of the focal points of her research is gender equality – are we even close to achieving this?


"The answer is very clearly no," says Tschopp. "For me, equality wasn't a major topic initially – until a few years ago, that is, when my boss asked me to take a look at the topic of women in AI," she says. "I was shocked when I realized how few women are involved in this field."


But why is it actually important for women to be involved in a particular field? Why should we be concerned about the fact that men tend to go into technical professions and women into social ones? Equality of opportunity between the genders – in terms of pay, for example – is one of the main arguments: The professions in which men work tend to be better paid compared with sectors that are traditionally dominated by women. When deciding what to study, men choose professions or subjects that offer the prospect of a better salary as their career progresses – the STEM subjects, for example. These links have been borne out by a number of studies. Being serious about promoting gender equality means supporting women who want to work in this area. 

Possible solution from UK

Fact is, employers likewise benefit from having mixed-gender teams. A US study published in 2020 found that scientific research groups achieve more innovative results if their members come from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and genders. In short, diversity brings rewards.


To make it into these teams, however, women first of all need to acquire the necessary skills. Joanne Hannaford, Chief Technology & Operations Officer at Credit Suisse, explains: "Around half the population is female. With regard to the digital economy, the fact that this 50% doesn't have access to the necessary skillsets for STEM professions is a big problem."


Hannaford incidentally introduced a new way for women to develop these skillsets in her home country of the UK, when she and her colleagues developed a volunteering program that enabled more than 20,000 women with a wide range of educational backgrounds to complete a "nanodegree." This comprises a 16-week part-time course and is financially supported by the employer, who guarantees the graduate a job provided she passes her final exam. This creates a new way for women to acquire the necessary skills for STEM professions. 

"Diversity is simple."

Marisa Tschopp wants to make a difference. She is an ambassador for the international NPO "Women in AI," which actively promotes the role of women and minorities in AI. "We do a lot of PR work and organize events where half the speakers are women. Our aim is to show how simple diversity can actually be."


Perhaps in this way it will also be possible to make women in STEM professions more visible: Various studies show that the question of whether or not a young woman has a role model is a crucial factor in their subsequent choice of future profession. Almost twice as many female students show interest in STEM professions if they have a role model from this area. "That's another reason why I'm a late developer in professional terms," says Tschopp. "I come from a family and environment with no academic role models, and am only now doing a doctorate – at age 38 and with two children." 

Working as a parent

Another explanation for the low proportion of women in STEM professions is the fact that women are more likely to decide to abandon their academic career path over time. On motherhood, Tschopp has the following to say: "The general expectation that women should work part-time annoys me. I think it would be a lot more valuable if it were completely normal for women to work full-time." In technical professions, employers' job profiles are still insufficiently geared to the needs of women. In a worst-case scenario, it's impossible to achieve a work-life balance and the working world loses highly qualified women. "What I actually want is to make sure that balancing work and family life is no longer an issue, and that everyone is free to decide how and where to work when they become a parent."


Marisa Tschopp dreams of winning a Nobel Prize. Here are some facts: To date, almost 800 men have been prizewinners; this compares with just 56 (!) women. "When I hear that, it immediately spurs me on even more," says the researcher with a smile.