February 11, March 8, Women’s History Month: the past few weeks have been full of opportunities to celebrate women, to remember achievements, to send each other empowering, supportive and loving messages.
And then, let’s not forget why we still need these days. Let’s not forget that they are not just festive anniversaries. They’re also reminders that we still have work to do until we can claim that women have equal rights, opportunities, and access to the workplace, science and research included.
We have come a long way since 1919, when Cecilia Payne-Gaposhkin had to migrate to the USA in order to receive a PhD for her groundbreaking research on the constituents of stars, because Cambridge was not awarding doctorate degrees to women until 1948. Yes, we have come a long way, yet not long enough. 100 years later, women in science are still treated as outsiders. A quick browse of the latest research on the topic provides plenty of examples:
- Everyone, but especially men, perceive women as lacking the qualities of a successful scientists. For example, faculty members rated male candidates for a laboratory manager position as far more competent than identical female applicants.
- Students systematically give lower grades to female professors in their course evaluations. So much so, that a study in French universities concluded that these student evaluations are a better mirror of gender bias than of teaching quality in the University .
- Women do more “service” work in academia, such as sitting in committees, mentoring, organizing and participating in events etc, ending up with less time for actual research and writing.
- Publications from male authors are considered of higher quality; articles from female authors are cited less frequently and women are underrepresented in the prestigious authorship positions (last author, high impact journals).
These are all examples of implicit bias. Funnily enough (only it’s not really funny) people aware of implicit bias, who think they are immune to it, promote fewer women.
Sometimes we get the hint that if we step up, talk about our science more and become inspiring role models for the younger generations, things will change. Yet:
- Women who publicly communicate their STEM work are often stereotyped and judged negatively as being bossy, bitchy, and emotional.
- Women are grossly underrepresented in YouTube as science communicators. When they do have channels, they receive more comments; a significant proportion of these comments are hostile, negative, sexual and about their looks rather than their work.
(And let’s not even get into sexual harassment.)
Here’s to all these women that persist nevertheless in pursuing careers in science and research; that persevere, despite being reminded repeatedly and relentlessly that they don’t belong.
I say to hell with it.
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