Every lipstick and mascara contains a wealth of science and research. And just maybe, they hold a key to making science fun and not frightening for girls.
At camps and workshops for children and teens run by Actua, a partnership of Canadian universities and colleges, women chemists and engineers from L’Oréal Canada spend time as mentors, showing young people how science makes cosmetics products possible – from the chemistry of the raw materials to the engineering and design of the packaging.
“It’s mostly to demystify what sounds intimidating,” says Marie-Josée Lamothe, vice-president, chief marketing and corporate communications officer of L’Oréal Canada.
Actua’s research shows that girls become intimidated by science and mathematics as early as the fourth grade. Only 20 per cent of scientific researchers in the private sector, and 12 per cent of mathematicians, are women.
“It’s because all these matters do not look sexy, like something a girl would like to do or talk about,” says Javier San Juan, the company’s president and chief executive officer. “At that age, you are what people around you allow you to be.”
A key to getting girls more engaged in science is to break down the peer pressure that holds them back, he says.
“The barriers are not necessarily coming from society, from men or from boys,” Mr. San Juan says. “The most difficult part is to make sure the peers, their girlfriends, do not discourage them from going in that direction.”
By explaining how they use science in their daily working life, the mentors from L’Oréal Canada also help show that a career in science is “normal and acceptable” for girls, he says. Adding to the girls’ sense of possibility, they are visited by two doctoral students who have received L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Mentor Fellowship Awards.
The program “allows the young woman to gain that self-confidence that it is possible for a woman to be in a lab coat,” says Ms. Lamothe.