Week 4: Women in SET (that’s me II)

I’ve been reading around the subject a little, and have come up with some slightly less academic sources:

From ScienceCareers.org comes a very good article (published in 2003) titled What does it take for Women to stay in Academic Chemistry?. The gist of the response is:

Little more, it seems, than openness, friendliness, support from both their peers and superiors, and good management. “The most important finding to support best practice is that the best departments have almost no measures targeted at women,” says Coe. “It is the culture that is supportive of all staff and of diversity. And there, men and women are thriving.”

It may not be a pure coincidence that the two most women-friendly departments in the study were led by young heads who were themselves halves of dual-career couples with children. In these departments, not only is a healthy work-life balance encouraged, but there is also no assumption that women who want to have a family are not committed.

In addition, the article adds a well-placed note of caution regarding changes targeted specifically at women:

…if gender measures may raise the number of women in the short term, they also present the “danger of reinforcing these barriers” in the longer term, says Coe. For a start, they could buttress stereotypical attitudes towards women’s careers in science. Indeed, if women were, say, granted enough flexibility to switch between research and lecturing relative to family commitments, for example, the emphasis on research excellence in academia means that women would be further marginalised. Furthermore, women-targeted measures may raise the barriers to a full-time academic career. For instance, while some departments have raised salaries to help with childcare costs, this extra money has to come from departmental resources, and women fear it may increase the pressures within a department and in the end make it a less female-friendly place to work.

And, from the Royal Society of Chemistry comes an article first published in Chemistry World in 2005 “Ambitious women scientists held back.

The researchers discovered that 36 per cent of female senior lecturers have ambitions to become a member of senior management, compared with 29 per cent of male senior lecturers. And 68 per cent of female professors wish to become head of a research group, compared with 49 per cent of their male counterparts. However, the data show that a higher proportion of men than women actually go on to key, high profile roles and responsibilities.

Part of the problem seems to be that women are often not encouraged to advance their careers in science.

I have been dismayed on reading many of these articles. I had thought (a fairly common belief, it seems) that feminism had fought and won its major battles years ago. I will be more aware, and more proactive, in future.


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