Science and Gender Obstacles and Interventions Athene M
Science and Gender Obstacles and Interventions Athene M Donald University of Cambridge UK Outline Context where are we now? Obstacles Family; Work life balance; Isolation; Lack of mentoring; Lack of confidence; Lack of role models; Lack of support networks Unconscious bias; Stereotyping
Bullying and harassment Interventions Monitoring Institutional Self Scrutiny Policies and Processes Getting Girls into Science (particularly physical sciences) beyond School First degrees obtained by UKdomiciled students in selected STEM subject areas by gender, 1994/5 and 2004/5 (data from Higher Education Statistics Agency) The ROSE (Relevance of Science Education) study shows by the age of 15 there are very significant differences in what boys and girls are interested in across the international scene. With the exception of Medicine, there is a great disparity in
numbers for men and women, and if anything the gap is getting greater over time. The Leaky Pipeline Well known that women drop out at far faster rates than men. Example from the Royal Society of Chemistrys report: Overall Increase of Women with Time (UK data) Trend in gender profile in Physics over the last decade by percentage of women by individual grade (HESA data 1996/7 to 2005/6) Across all disciplines, the number of professors is slowly increasing.
Obstacles The list of potential obstacles is formidable: Family Work life balance Isolation Lack of mentoring Lack of confidence
Lack of role models Lack of support networks Unconscious bias acting against them Stereotyping Bullying and harassment Different women will experience a different sub-set of these and have different internal strategies to cope. Some are societal, but others can be ameliorated by far-sighted policy and individuals. Family and Work-Life BalanceThe Long Hours Culture Many young women believe it is impossible to combine a serious science career and a family, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
It appears that even with visible role models there is still a high level of fear about trying to cope with what is seen as a high pressure job and the demands of a family. Dual career issues seem more likely to affect women than men, with women tending to follow their partners more than conversely. This reduction in flexibility obviously limits job opportunities. The frequent expectation that a postdoc is at their desk/bench for very long hours works against families too, despite the fact that this may not be a productive means of working. Who is the primary carer of children or parents? Isolation, Mentoring, Role Models In some disciplines the absolute number of women is tiny, and that is when isolation becomes a problem
Who do you turn to for advice and support? Mentoring is an attractive option and often happens completely informally but by having a structure in place to facilitate it, it should mean no one gets missed. Mentors do not have to be female! What is important is that they are trusted, and are willing to invest time in the individual. And that is often a sticking point since time is seen as so precious. For some women, having a senior role model in mind appears to be helpful, but the evidence for this is sparse. Confidence - the Impostor Syndrome L Bonetta, Science Feb 12 2010, 889 The response of astronomy graduate students to the statement: Sometimes I am afraid others will discover how much knowledge or
ability I lack. Women seem to be much more fearful, and much more inclined to feel that they are somehow an impostor. The evidence is that this is also true for senior women, and not just grad students. This fearfulness makes it harder for them to take risks, or feel they have the qualifications they need to apply for a job. Thus they may settle for less and not try to progress. Support Networks
If you havent got a mentor, support networks can be useful. Again these can be formal or informal; in the latter case it may be simply a group of friends who have had similar experiences. Support networks can also be a source of specific information: who to approach with a question, what experience you need to apply for a more senior position etc. But where there are more personal issues about bullying for instance they can also serve a very useful purpose since other people/peers may have been through similar situations and found coping strategies they can pass on. Bullying and Harassment Mild bullying maybe can be dealt with unofficially and through peer group support. However there comes a point where this is not sufficient. People need to familiarise themselves with their local procedures. Is mediation on offer? Is there a womans officer to whom you can turn in the first instance?
Who do you report complaints to? Is there someone to support you when you do so? The reality is that formal procedures are always horrible, even if your case is fully justified. Informal processes should always be tried first. It is also the case that once formal procedures are implemented strict confidentiality will be imposed, which can be curiously painful as informal support is then difficult to obtain; only formal channels should then be used. Formal complaints should definitely be seen as the place of last resort. Unconscious Bias and Stereotyping The problem with unconscious bias is that it is unconscious! But we can all be alert to look out for it in ourselves.
The tests at Project Implicit https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ are a healthy reminder that we all carry internal schema which are liable to make us make assumptions about our colleagues. In job interviews, in interacting with people on a daily basis, these schemata can get in the way of seeing people for who they really are. The net effect for women trying to survive and progress in the world of science this can be a major challenge. If your boss believes women are unreliable, cant do maths or wire up a plug there may be a problem! Possible manifestations Letters of reference: how is the language couched? Evidence to suggest letters are written differently for men and women, with fewer superlatives about the latter than the former. How is the CV evaluated? Blind tests with identical CVs and different names indicate mens CVs are viewed as more impressive, even when identical.
Assumptions about absenteeism due to caring responsibilities or the liklihood of becoming pregnant may also be made without being made explicit. There may also be a general sense that someone may not fit in without this necessarily even being recognized. Finally the daily grind One of the most powerful obstacles is the daily, trivial frustrations and petty fights many women experience. This might include Being ignored/talked over at committee meetings Being expected to do tasks others wont, and which probably wont be good for career progression Being forgotten to be invited to after work drinks Having to listen to casually sexist remarks Seeming to be invisible Being accused of being emotional or not able to take a joke, particularly when registering a complaint about someone elses
behaviour. None of these are in themselves hugely serious, but day after day they can lead to a general feeling of what am I doing here? Interventions I will talk from my own experience here, but there will be many other steps that people can take to fit their own local circumstances. I have been overseeing initiatives both within my own university, through our Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative (WiSETI) and nationally through the Athena Forum. Clearly different actions are appropriate within the two spheres. It is also encouraging that the visibility my completely unofficial role
in WiSETI has led to me becoming the Universitys Gender Equality Champion and a Deputy Vice Chancellor. This role, enables me to have a formal voice and to influence strategy. Athena Swan The Athena Swan Charter to which an organisation commits, states: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. To address gender inequalities requires commitment and action from everyone, at all levels of the organisation To tackle the unequal representation of women in science requires changing cultures and attitudes across the organisation The absence of diversity at management and policy-making levels has broad implications which the organisation will examine The high loss rate of women in science is an urgent concern which the organisation will address The system of short-term contracts has particularly negative
consequences for the retention and progression of women in science, which the organisation recognises There are both personal and structural obstacles to women making the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career in science, which require the active consideration of the organisation. Athena Swan Awards The organisation (university) submits a description of how its processes and structures furthers the aims of the Charter. Key to this is a process of examining what is happening, who is taking responsibility for what, and where there are actions needed. This is done at the institutional level. If an award is made (48 universities in the UK currently signed up at Bronze level), then individual departments can apply in their own right for Silver and Gold awards. Currently only one department has a Gold! But there are 37 with Silver (including my own) and 5 with Bronze.
Gaining an award is definitely acting as a benchmark in the UK. Local Actions - bottom-up (WiSETI, University of Cambridge) Concentrating primarily on early career researchers, to give them tools and encouragement to keep going. Workshops jointly with local industry. seminars addressing issues raised by participants including discussions on leadership, managing personal and professional impact, assertiveness and balancing career and family. skills based workshops e.g. Speaking up and Saying No, facilitated by a professional trainer.
Cakes and Careers talks for PhD students and Postdocs Format consists of talks by young women only a few years into their careers with a mix of speakers from different careers not just from academia Annual Lecture sponsored by a local company. An inspirational senior woman scientist comes to talk about her life and career. The lecture is open to all. Local Actions continued CV mentoring this is aimed at women considering applying for promotion. Senior faculty, who have themselves had experience of the various promotion panels, advise potential applicants on their state of readiness, what they might need to do to improve chances of promotion, and how to improve their CVs.
Project Juno and Athena Swan Silver help in preparation of material. The aim is to use this to produce a Toolkit which other departments will then be able to use to put their own cases together; in this way we hope to disseminate best practice across the University. Institutional Self Scrutiny One of the key things about the Athena Swan awards is that they require a degree of self-awareness and self scrutiny, as well as monitoring. Only by using the hard facts of statistics will some people will respond, however strong the anecdotal evidence is. But statistics alone are not enough: if success rates for promotion for men and women are equal, but actually men get promoted much earlier in their career, then intervention is needed. So analysis is always required to look beyond the statistics. Gender Equality Champion Role
Top down interventions I have recently taken on this role within the University at the request of the VC much broader than science. I interpret my brief as being able to ask awkward questions of senior staff (academic and administrative) and to advocate change where needed. As a visible and senior academic it makes it hard for them simply to ignore me, and indeed so far I am finding people very supportive. I also chair the committee that is looking at the outcomes of the equal pay review again this enables me to challenge the findings. And I get sight of relevant strategy documents for my input at an early stage e.g around promotion criteria. I believe this role therefore gives me some influence, and is not just (as I had initially feared) a meaningless concession.
National Level - Athena Forum http://www.athenaforum.org.uk/ The committee is composed of representatives from key professional Bodies so that they can act as intermediaries with these bodies. Membership Professor Athene Donald (Chair) Professor Ottoline Leyser (Deputy Chair) Professor Howard Alper, Inter Academy Panel Professor Julia Buckingham, Society of Biology Professor Christine Davies, Institute of Physics Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Royal Academy of Engineering
Professor Richard Nelmes, Royal Society Professor Andrew Orr-Ewing, Royal Society of Chemistry Professor Gwyneth Stallard, London Mathematical Society Professor Moira Whyte, Academy of Medical Sciences Observers Peter Cotgreave, Royal Society Bob Ditchfield, Royal Academy of Engineering Stephen Axford, DIUS The Chair and Deputy Chair are independent, but are both chosen to be FRSs and the Royal
Society hosts the Forum Builds on the Athena Project The Athena Project is the owner of the Athena Swan Awards. It ran from 1999-2007. During this time it compiled a number of reports. Some 80 UK universities (over 70% of those with any significant science faculties) took part in one or more of Athenas programmes. As with its successor, its primary goal is: Identifying, Developing and Encouraging Good Practice We have essentially no money, so our effect has merely to be through influence and leadership. But the make-up of the committee gives us direct influence into other bodies which may have money! Identifying Good Practice: Gathering and Disseminating Information Our first target was to gather information from the various
professional bodies about The ways societies organise their women and science activities, and demonstrate their commitment to improving the participation, representation and progression of women in science and in society activities The career development opportunities and programmes societies offer their members, fellows, and academic scientists The societies interactions with university departments This led to the Report: Womens Career Progression and Representation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine(STEMM) in Higher Education http://www.athenaforum.org.uk/reports/Report1AthenaForumGPGfor STEMM_styled.pdf We will shortly be revisiting this with the professional societies to see what changes have occurred in the two years following the report. Interacting with Research Funders
This summer we collected similar information and held a discussion meeting with Research Funders. A report will be published soon on this. Bringing the different organisations together not only has allowed us to see what they are doing, but also seems to have encouraged the group of Research Councils to look into unifying their policies. This will be advantageous since currently subtle differences, e.g. over maternity leave policies, can cause confusion within the universities. We are keen to encourage more consistent monitoring of application and success rate by gender. Questions for Postdocs We wanted to provide a quick guide for Postdocs to facilitate them taking control of their lives.
We therefore designed a simple bookmark for distribution after local branding. The 10 key questions are: What are your Are you on the right strengths? career path? What motivates you? Are you ready for the What is your next next step? step? Hows your life/work What skills and balance? experience do you need? Why do you enjoy How can you gain what you do?
these? What are your Where can you go for strengths? objective guidance? Providing Information The last question - Where can you go for objective guidance? we hoped could be addressed in two ways: By local sources of information, provided on the back of the bookmark; By a document on the Athena Forum website http://www.athenaforum.org.uk/forum%20bookmark%20web%20 text091222-1.pdf Postdocs need confidence to ask questions, but also they need to know what the right questions to ask are. Within my own university we now give this bookmark out to all new postdocs, and we would like other organisations to follow suit.
Reflections There are no simple answers! In the UK a large report has just been published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission pointing out how substantial the gender pay gap across the board is. But that is in some senses the least of the problems for women in science. It is a combination of standing out as different, of being isolated, of not having sufficient support mentors, heads of department etc of being stereotyped and being offered or choosing to do tasks that may not be the wisest in terms of career progression. It is the fear or the actual difficulty of finding a work-life balance that works and that permits a personal (including family) life that is satisfying.
And just finding too many small irritations that can add up to a feeling that it is all more than one can bear and that it isnt worth continuing. Conclusions As senior women we have to work hard to speak out about our own experiences, to persuade our male colleagues that there is still an endemic cultural problem, and any individual woman making a complaint or raising an issue is neither making an unreasonable fuss nor alone in her frustration at the environment she finds herself in. In my experience, all women even if they appear or claim never to have suffered discrimination recognize that the barriers are higher for women than men. Have I ever personally suffered discrimination? no, not in any overt sense. Have I felt the odds stacked against me? absolutely and sometimes I still do. I have recently started a blog http://athenedonald.wordpress.com/, in part to share my experiences with younger women, to indicate that bad things can happen and you can (maybe) overcome them, and that things that happen to them are not necessarily personal. 'I learned two particularly important lessons from this report and from discussions while it was being crafted. First, I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I
now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance. Second, I, like most of my male colleagues, believe that we are highly supportive of our junior women faculty members. This also is true.' Dr Charles Vest President of MIT at the time of the Report on the Status of Women at MIT in 1999.
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