I've done the maths: there are too few women in science
There is no shortage of female graduates, so why are women under- represented when it comes to university staff? It’s time to tip the gender imbalance, writes Dr AOIFE McLYSAGHT
ACCORDING TO most schoolchildren, I don’t look like a scientist. If you ask them to draw a picture of a scientist, nearly all of them will draw a man, possibly with grey hair and glasses. I have none of these attributes. Yet, I am a scientist, so I must look like one.
The kids’ idea of a typical scientist is unfortunately accurate. It is still a male-dominated profession, which is not only a shame, but it’s also a big loss for the universities and research institutions because they are missing out on a lot of talent.
Despite the fact that women earn 46 per cent of the PhDs awarded in Ireland every year, which is around the EU average, only 33 per cent of those actually working in science are female.
In Trinity, only 38 per cent of the faculty (lecturers and professors) are women. It’s even worse within science and engineering, where 18 per cent are women. Throughout the university, men outnumber women in every academic grade, but especially so in science, and it gets worse the higher you look. If you consider only the top grade, full professors, in Trinity there are just 13 women, compared with 81 men.
This information (printed on this page) was starkly portrayed in a graph produced by the Women in Science and Engineering Research (Wiser) office of Trinity. It wasn’t news to many within the university.
It isn’t even different from the EU average. We call it the “scissors plot” because the two lines – one representing women and one men – cross over and get further apart, much like a drawing of a scissors.
There is some partial explanation in the fact that years ago, when many of the people who are now professors were first appointed to university jobs, there probably weren’t as many women in the workforce, for social and cultural reasons. However, even in the most junior lecturing grade, which is mainly made up of recent appointments from a time when the available pool should have been balanced, men are still more numerous than women.
Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that this little spotlight on gender inequality at home came in the same week as a new study on gender bias in the sciences was reported in the New York Times. The original study was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.
The researchers sent CVs to various university professors and asked them to take part in a mentorship exercise. They were asked to evaluate the CVs, as if they were considering the people concerned for a job, so as to give the best feedback to the candidates.
The CVs were fictional and were designed to test for subconscious prejudices on the part of the professors. There were just two kinds of CV made for the study, and they were identical except for a single detail – in one CV the applicant was called “John”, and in the other “Jennifer”.