International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. This year, the theme is #EachforEqual, highlighting that an equal world is an enabled world. One of the key missions for this theme is ‘forging inclusive workplaces so women can thrive’. This is particularly important for retaining women in STEM fields. Ultimately this mission needs to start in schools, because girls as young as 10 are reported to feel ‘out of place‘ in STEM subjects.
This blog post features some of the initiatives aiming to retain girls in STEM fields and shines a light on how far we have to go before girls and women are treated and represented equally in STEM.
Women in academia are special. This isn’t because of their abundance and diversity (or lack of it in some circles) but rather because of the challenges faced by women. As an early career woman researcher, I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from some incredibly inspirational women scientists. In this post – peppered with the lyrics of Joan Baez – we will meet three of these exceptional scientists working in three different realms (terrestrial, estuarine and marine). I hope that their strengths will be as inspirational to others – as they have been to me – and that in the years to come, we, as women, shall overcome the glass cliffs and glass ceilings of academia.
We’ll Walk Hand in Hand, Some Day #Equality
In the terrestrial realm of tropical forests, researchers often have to work with government officials (for instance, the forest department). Challenges of gender equality can be particularly stark in these workplaces. A key challenge for women in such a setting is not being considered a professional. Female researchers are far too often underestimated: lecturers assumed to be trainees, post-doctoral researchers mistaken for students. Continue reading →
Susan Johnston: Mentorship schemes: there are many benefits from being able to have transparent, open and reciprocal discussion on career development, as well as the unwritten rules and experiences of academia. In smaller or less diverse departments, supervisors could encourage their female students to contact potential mentors (male or female) from other institutions. A quick Skype conversation every few months can benefit both the mentee and the mentor.
Carolyn Kurle: Don’t be daunted by the idea of how challenging a position in academia might be and don’t remove yourself from the path of academia just because you might be afraid of the potential demands. More and more support exists for mixing successful academic lives with also being a present and fulfilled parent and having a full life outside of research. And the more we expect that to be the case, the more it will exist as reality. Continue reading →
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 →
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 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 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 →
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:
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
There were equal numbers of male and female presenters. In my experience this gender balance of invited speakers is unusual and notable
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.
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 around 10% of questions were asked by women.