Bias, Role Models and Women in STEM

Post provided by Lee Hsiang Liow

As the newest Senior Editor of Methods in Ecology and Evolution – and someone who happens to have two X chromosomes – I’ve been asked to write a blog post to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

After being a postdoc for almost ten years, I landed a permanent academic job in the city I wanted to live and raise my daughter in. I have great colleagues and I love my job as a researcher and teacher. I feel incredibly lucky: I am a female scientist and I “made it”.

When I showed the previous paragraph to a close friend and fellow “scientist who made it” he reminded me that a male colleague could easily have written exactly the same thing, only replacing “female” with “male”. Although I agree with his observation, I was deeply frustrated by what could be implied by his response.

His response illustrates a problem: some people may think it’s “all fine” now or that the issue of gender inequality has been solved. They cite the numerous measures in place at different levels to help women enter STEM fields and to ensure female scientists get an equal chance at staying in the game. It might be close to “all fine” in Scandinavia – a region known for long periods of parental leave and ingrained culture to put children and families above work – but it’s not all chocolate mousse and cheesecake everywhere in the world. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: Improvements Towards Gender Equality in STEM?

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. Continue reading

International Women’s Day: What Inspired You to Pursue a Career in Science?

Tomorrow (Tuesday 8 March) is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, we asked  our female Editors a few questions about gender equality (and other issues) in STEM and we’ll be posting their answers over the next four days.

We begin our International Women’s Day posts on a positive note, finding out a little more about our Editors. The first question that we asked them was: What made you want to pursue a career in science and were there any female scientists in particular who inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?

Jana VamosiJana Vamosi: I had no idea what I wanted to do until I was well into my twenties. I took a class in Evolutionary Biology at the end of my undergraduate degree. I loved learning the unifying theories and applying my nascent skills in biomathematics. I went on to start graduate studies with Dr Sally Otto at the University of British Columbia and her mentorship inspired me to consider a career in STEM.

Rachel_MccreaRachel McCrea: I always loved mathematics at school but never realised you could make a career out of it.  I didn’t think about my career path as such when choosing what to study at university but just chose a subject that I enjoyed.  My two (female) A-level maths teachers are to thank for me not pursuing medicine or veterinary science as they really supported me and taught me double-maths at A-level, even though only myself and one other student chose to take it.  I was inspired by Simon Singh’s book on Fermat’s Last Theorem and whilst at university I discovered that even though pure mathematics was not for me I really liked statistics so decided to study for an MSc.  Since then I have never turned back!  Continue reading

Methods 5th Anniversary Symposium: A Gender Balanced Event?

Post provided by Alison Johnston

The Methods in Ecology and Evolution Symposium was an excellent conference with dynamic and interesting speakers representing a wide range of topics which have been published in the journal over the last five years. It was an unusual conference for a couple of reasons:

  1. It wasn’t all in one place. Talks were relayed between London and Calgary (during convenient times!), a couple of speakers presented via Skype from neither location and it was watched via livestream.com by hundreds of other participants
  2. There were equal numbers of male and female presenters. In my experience this gender balance of invited speakers is unusual and notable

Equal attendance
The gender balance of the speakers encouraged me to look around the room and write down a few figures for other gender dimensions of the London section of the symposium. As well as equal gender representation of speakers, there was also a good gender balance in the attendees – 42% of the attendees were female at the time I wrote down the numbers. These two figures suggest that it was a good conference for gender equality. However, I think these headline figures hide a number of more tricky aspects of gender equality.

Questionable numbers
There were a total of 23 questions asked of the 12 speakers presenting or livestreamed in London and only 3 of these were from women (2 out of 22 if I exclude my own question to reduce any investigator effects). These data points are not independent, as some people asked several questions, but I didn’t keep a record of individuals. Twitter revealed a similar reduced female presence compared to attendance: of those people tweeting to #Methods5th only 37% were women.

Proportion of different symposium participants that were female. Half the speakers and nearly half the attendees were female. But only just over 10% of questions were asked by women.

Proportion of different symposium participants that were female. Half the speakers and nearly half the attendees were female. But only around 10% of questions were asked by women.

Continue reading