Yesterday we heard about the barriers to gender equality in STEM, as well as a few things that we’re surprised haven’t been fixed yet and some ideas on how improvements could be made. Today, we’re looking at where things are getting better.

What Changes, Initiatives, Actions etc. Have You Seen that have Impressed You?

Louise Johnson: One notable change for the better is that it’s now unacceptable to invite only men as your symposium speakers – it still happens, but you’d get deservedly yelled at for it. That kind of culture change seems inevitable, but it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of people sticking their necks out and complaining (and often being ignored or called whiny or jealous), so we should thank those people. I see more childcare grants available for conference attendance too, which is great.

Luísa Carvalheiro: Important steps I have seen in some countries are extending time limits to apply to fellowships based on the number of babies a woman has had, and to provide paid maternity leave for those financially dependent on scholar/fellowships. These are steps absolutely necessary in the real world. In an ideal world though, both men and women would have the same societal pressures and benefits.

Tamara Münkemüller: To me dual career initiatives are a great thing and often lead to win-win situations. Providing options for daycare is also necessary. Not worrying about this and also knowing that the children are not too far away in case something happens is a great relief.


Natalie CooperNatalie Cooper: Accreditation schemes like Athena SWAN have really helped raise awareness of the issue, and have got people thinking about how to fix issues in their institutions. I’ve also been really impressed with how some conferences (Evolution and ESA in particular) have arrangements to make things easier for people bringing their children. We still have a long way to go, but awareness of the issue is definitely the first step.

Diana FisherDiana Fisher: I like the SAGE pilot programme (Science in Australia Gender Equity). It actively collects information on gender bias and how institutions are addressing it. My institution has signed up to this application of the Athena SWAN Charter, which has just started in Australia. This charter has already improved representation of women in STEM in the UK.

I have seen a woman recently refuse to do an invited plenary and boycott an international conference, because the number of women giving plenaries at this conference was woeful.

Jana VamosiJana Vamosi: Some institutions have adopted the Athena Swan Charter, which is pretty fantastic. Journals that publish on the science of implicit bias are great for allowing men and women to accept that it exists.


SusanJohnston2Susan Johnston: I am impressed that in recent years, societies and institutions have started to provide services for researchers with young families to help them to attend international conferences. For example, in 2015 the European Society of Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) offered free childcare for 0 – 5 year olds for the duration of their conference in Lausanne. My own department at the University of Edinburgh has just set up a Family Support Fund to help researchers with caring responsibilities attend conferences and participate in other career development opportunities.

Satu Ramula: Some universities have specific networks in order to support female scientists in their careers within STEM. These networks organise various activities, providing thus excellent opportunities to meet other female colleagues from different career stages from PhD students to more senior scientists.


Is there Anyone, or Any Institution, Department etc., Who You Feel Deserves Specific Praise in this Area?

Carolyn KurleCarolyn Kurle: My own PhD advisors, Dr Bernie Tershy and Dr Don Croll, at the University of California Santa Cruz, modelled excellent work/family balance. They both had young children when I was a PhD student and did excellent teaching, mentoring, science and conservation action while also being very present for their families. Their partners were also academics and, while it was clearly not easy for them and their spouses to juggle all of the demands of kids, research, teaching, and overall life, they demonstrated to their students that it was very possible. They never once made it seem as if academia and family life were mutually exclusive. In fact, they both incorporate their children into their field research, inspiring me to do the same.

Susan Johnston: Hannah Dugdale and Julia Schroeder noticed that there was an under-representation of women at evolutionary biology conferences, namely ESEB – and tackled the problem head-on with their paper in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. At the time it could have been perceived as rocking the boat, but the effects of their study have caused a large culture shift over a very short period of time. The response has been overwhelmingly positive across the field of ecology and evolution, from ensuring that symposium organisers account for any implicit bias when selecting speakers, to providing free childcare for researchers with young families.

Jana VamosiCalifornia Academy of Science recently had an engaging Women in Science Summit. The speakers provided insightful advice on how to tackle these thorny issues and men and women got involved.

Natalie Cooper: Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli’s SoapBox Science events are excellent. They (and their volunteers and groups across the UK) have done an amazing job exposing the public to the research done by women scientists. I also had the pleasure of working with the fantastic Eileen Drew and her team when I was at Trinity College Dublin as they negotiated with the Equality Commission to get Athena SWAN extended to Ireland. In my current institution Sandy Knapp (self proclaimed poster child for imposter syndrome) is tireless in her campaign for gender equality.

Diana Fisher: Increasing participation at university and beyond starts with giving kids of both sexes opportunities to have fun with STEM at school from a young age. There is now a programme called Junior Engineers in primary schools here in Australia. My daughter and her friends have been learning coding and robotics since she was ten, I think this is a great idea. A few years ago, extra activities in primary schools only included music and sport, now it is engineering and software skills too.

Louise Johnson: The Athena Swan initiative has forced departments to confront problems they could otherwise have waved away. And another huge force for good is the science outreach community: science bloggers and journalists and communicators who tend to be very aware of gender issues. Things like the “I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out of Here” schools outreach scheme (which I loved taking part in and would highly recommend), or the @realscientists Twitter account, spread the vital message that scientists are diverse, normal people rather than a bunch of dishevelled old white blokes who explode things.