I've done the maths: there are too few women in science
Each professor saw only one CV and they were asked to evaluate various characteristics and suggest a starting salary. Depressingly, John was evaluated as being significantly more competent and more hireable overall, and was offered a 13 per cent higher salary. With an identical CV, poor Jennifer wasn’t taken seriously.
WOMEN AND girls want to do science, and we’re good at it. At the Higher Options fair in the RDS in September, I was delighted to see so many girls coming up to me, brimful of confidence and enthusiasm, asking about entry to courses in genetics, physics and maths. At undergraduate level, at least half of the students taking degrees in biological sciences are female. Yet, in the higher ranks of the universities, there are few women. These are the very girls who are more than able to “do the maths”.
Many people in positions of authority in universities have spent a lot of energy trying to figure out what is going wrong in the appointment of women to academic positions. One popular idea is that it is to do with child-rearing choices. Women are deciding to stay at home and look after their children.
However, are they making this choice or is it being made for them? If they aren’t being hired to do the jobs they are qualified to do, if they keep meeting resistance and discouragement, then pretty soon they’ll naturally stop trying.
Personally, I have found an academic career to be very family-friendly. I get evaluated by my colleagues and peers on my productivity over timescales of months, not days. If, on any given Tuesday, I need to stay at home with a sick child, then that is just fine. They’re only young for such a short while after all. Once I’m getting the job done, and doing it well, then it doesn’t matter.
That isn’t to say that having children didn’t affect my productivity – of course it did. I’m surely getting less done than I am capable of. However, I know, because they tell me so, that female students are encouraged by the very fact of my being a working scientist and mother.
Women are just as good at science as men. University heads frequently declare a wish to appoint and retain more women in their faculty. Yet, the representation of women is only increasing very slowly.
The valuable insight of the CV study is that the prejudice is subconscious. Well-intentioned professors are making bad decisions. This tells us that we can’t wait for this problem to fix itself. Some action must be taken – and the Wiser office has taken on that challenge.
There is no easy or quick solution to a problem that has crept as far as the childhood toy- box – since when are simple Lego bricks a boys’ toy? There is a stereotype that needs to be countered. Women need to be more visible, which means including them more in the media. There are plenty of articulate women to choose from, just ask the Women On Air networking group or the people behind The Antiroom podcast.