By: Lidiya Angelova- Duleva
Being a top scientist is neither a female nor a male job. There is no scientific evidence that states that ones gender is specifically required to obtain a certain profession in science or any other field for that matter. Yet, when you look closely at the data reporting the percentage of female-vs-male full-time STEM professors in the United States and in Europe, only one-fifth are women (1). Interestingly, more women than men earn science degrees (2). A report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers shows that women are 40 % more likely to obtain a graduate school degree (3, 4).
This begs the questions, where do women go and why does it seem to be that they disappear from the fields that they have earned these degrees in?
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may hold the answer to these inquiries. Research showed that women often need to find jobs outside of the science fields due to the fact that they don’t get hired as readily as men. Science faculty members were asked to rate applications for a laboratory manager position of a student who was randomly assigned as a male or female applicant. When compared to the absolutely identical application with a female name, the application with a male name was rated as more competent and was more likely to be hired. They also showed that “female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student” (5). This simple study solidified a stereotype that many may already be well aware of: the one of the likable nice woman, that doesn’t need to be anything more than that.
Women that have succeeded in various disciplines in science are often so rare that they can be seen as anomalies even by other women in the same field. Even with a doctoral degree, it would seem women are only able to find administrative positions at government institutions, universities and colleges or start alternative careers as science writers and communicators; policy advisers. Unfortunately in those career paths their scientific knowledge is only partially in use. Graduate students possess the skills required for any administrative job and while its normal that many of them are taking this path, the prevalence of women can be imbalanced.
We must talk about gender bias in a constructive and productive manner as it is an issue that affects everyone. These conversations also are not limited to occuring just in the workplace. Some of them can and should begin at home, where both boys and girls should be taught that there is no such thing as a strictly female or male job. There are also many other resources that can help move these conversations forward. Mighty girl is a great source for inspirational books and movies that portray strong girls and women. Getting more female leaders involved in mentoring young female scientists and foundations like Scientista is very important part of the solution at the college and university level. The creation of online tools with the profiles of women in academia, like Academia.Net will help amplify women profiles to become more visible and help to encourage female scientists explore new opportunities (1, 6). Mass media should focus on showing more female scientists and women at leading positions in other scientific disciplines. These solutions will not provide overnight or immediate solutions but everyone should be doing their part, no matter how small, to start moving the needle in a more positive direction.
About the Author
Lidiya’s curiosity about “how the life works” led her to complete a Master’s degree in Biology and a PhD in Microbiology. Science gave her more questions than answers and after a few years as a postdoc at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, MD, USA, she decided to pursue her “first” love in writing. Not long after that, she became a mom of a wonderful girl, who is a very energetic toddler now. She loves to travel and has lived in many countries; she is still looking for a place to settle down. Lidiya is thrilled to be a part of the Scientista bloggers team, and loves being able to connect with lots of wonderful young, and already established female scientists, while writing about science, life and everything else.
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