Women in Science: Getting women to stay in the field
In 2010, a man was six times more likely to work in a SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) occupation than a woman. That’s easily explained by girls being less interested than boys in science, one might reply.
If so, then how come in that same year girls made up half of GCSE students taking SET subjects at GCSE?And it’s not just GCSE level. 42 per cent of 18 year old girls take science at A level, and an impressive 60 per cent of undergraduate biology students in the UK are women.
Contrary to the popular myth, women dolove science as much as men. The problem is that women do not stay in science.
Take the world of academia. Less than ten per cent of professorships in the UK are held by women, and we are amongst the rapidly dwindling numbers of middle-career women scientists. Over the last decade or so we’ve witnessed many of our fabulous female peers leave science, whilst most of our male peers go from strength to strength.
At the annual conferences we’ve attended since we were PhD students, we grow increasingly saddened by the shifting sex ratio amongst our peer groups. Whilst male colleagues are enjoying promotions to Reader- and Professorships, the women are just disappearing. And yet the new influx of keen graduate students continues to be highly female biased, year after year.
We are hardly the first ones to raise the issue of the low proportion of women in science; the topic has been covered many times before. Shockingly, though, nothing has changed.
Yet increasing the proportion of women in science is of central interest to everyone, not just women. Relative to men, womentendto excel in communication skills, social skills, multi-tasking, creative thinking and empathy: these traits are key to boost scientific progress and take science to the next level, especially as science becomes more and more collaborative, integrative and innovative. In short, science needs women.
This afternoon, 12 amazing women that have made major contributions to UK science, ranging from geology to software development, psychology, conservation, astrophysics and chemistry will be taking to a soapbox on London’s South Bank. With noslide show, no jargon, no artifice, they will talk first-hand with the public about the fabulous science they do, why they chose a career in science and why this was one of the best choices they ever made.
Our Soapbox Science event is a small effort to make people aware of the issue surrounding women in science, and to encourage more young women to consider careers in science.
We hope it will spark action into righting the imbalance at institutional and cultural levels. But what needs to be done to increase women’s representation in science? Our suggestions includeensuring that mechanisms are put in place for career costs of parenthood to be more equally distributed among men and women. We need to reduce the impact of career breaks on future professional advancements. We want to increase the provision and job opportunities for relocating families and partners, and providetargeted support for women in their 30s who are typically in the transition between senior postdoc and independent research positions.
Finally, we need many more visible, accessible female role models such as our 12 Soapbox speakers – people who are willing to engage, share their experiences and push for change.
Our mission is to achieve change now, in time for the young women in science today. We want to be able to guarantee that today’s young women scientists will still wearing their white coats or yielding their field binoculars in 20 years’ time, but as professors and not field-assistants!
Dr Nathalie Petorelli and Dr Seirian Sumner are Research Fellows at the Institute of Zoology. Soapbox Science has been organised by the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and The Zoological Society of London. www.zsl.org/soapboxscienceTagged in: science, SET
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