International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. 

We are actively looking to hire dynamic and competitive Post Docs and PhD students to join our team at the Crowther Lab. But we are specifically focussed on promoting equality within our lab. We have been working with the 500 Women Scientists to initiate a gender neutral hiring process and we are particularly looking for applications from female scientists.

We decided to interview different women and men who work within science, to get their perspective and opinions on this day.


Anonymous

What is your position/job title?

I’m doing a postdoc in ecology.

Have you witnessed or experienced any gender bias or inequality during your career?

Luckily, I haven’t experienced much direct gender bias. However, I have often had the feeling that I had to work quite hard to be taken seriously – if I would try to make a point then I would be “worried about nothing”, whereas the opinions of male colleagues seemed to have more authority.

The main openly biased thing (usually meant as good advice) that I find very frustrating is the great number of people – men and women! – who have told me over the years that it is not possible to combine a career in science with having a family. I often find myself defending my optimism that it is possible, and that if it turns out not to be in my personal situation, I can always make that decision later. I find it very tiring to have people question my career choices in that way.

What advice would you give to other women and girls in science to help them in their careers?

Don’t let people discourage you, stay positive, and look for the many examples of other women in science who overcame challenges similar to yours.

What do you think should be done to improve the current issues and restrictions?

One thing which is already happening, is that more discussions are taking place about unconscious bias. These are great to make people aware of these issues and create an atmosphere in which you can address them.

I think this will be more helpful than just offering courses to women only, where they learn how to be more assertive or something similar. I tend to find these a bit derogatory, because they imply that the problem lies with women alone.

In order to increase the number of women who hold a faculty position, I think it may not be a bad idea for universities to actively recruit women, rather than waiting to see which applications they receive for a particular position. Often the first filter already happens at this stage.


Devin – Crowther Lab

“I think it’s far too easy for me to become complacent in a system that consistently rewards me for something I never chose (i.e., my gender). To attempt to mitigate this, whenever I sit down with my co-workers and collaborators I try as best I can to actively imagine what it’s like to be looking out through their eyes, from their minds, and with their bodies—instead of my own. If I can just partially imagine what it’s like to be another person having not enjoyed my societal privileges, then I can better treat even the smallest details of our interactions with care and respect.

It’s of course much easier to describe this process than to fulfill it (as I know I often fail). But I’d like to think that the entire process itself helps move me towards a greater appreciation of others’ experiences, away from a position of complacent privilege, and—hopefully—nudges our society incrementally towards greater equality.”


Jane – 500 Women Scientists

What is your position/job title? 

Senior Scientist, Center for Carbon Removal (a non-profit working on climate change mitigation) and co-founder, 500 Women Scientists

Have you witnessed or experienced any gender bias or inequality during your career? – these days, I refuse to answer this question in interviews and will also refuse to answer here. My advice (take or leave) – this kind of question is more harmful than helpful at this point. It alienates the women who have not experienced it as somehow not earning their feminism credibility and it makes the whole thing a spectacle. I am not exposing my harassment stories in science because it places the emphasis on that instead of my ability to do good science. I will say that happened so frequently and it was so “clever” and hard to pin down that I just treated it as a job hazard, like you would working with ethidium bromide in a lab. Except the extra effort to avoid contact with the hazard (certain men) only applied to me and other women.

What advice would you give to other women and girls in science to help them in their careers? – Keep in mind that a career path in science does not have to be a straight line (undergrad to grad to postdoc to professor) and there are a lot of ways to do science and contribute.

What do you think should be done to improve the current issues and restrictions?  …I think we all (men and women) have to work hard to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to participate in science. That means we have to form strong alliances and push against the institutional status quo together. We need a strong network of women and we also need to bring strong male allies into the fold.


Thomas – ETH

As a man in the system, it is very difficult to imagine the thousands of tangible and intangible consequences of the gender bias. But But we have to (1) be aware that these biases exist, (2) try to understand the consequences, and (3) be part of the solution by trying to figure out ways to improve the system.


Kelly – 500 Women Scientists

What is your position/job title? 

Postdoctoral researcher; co-founder 500WS

Have you witnessed or experienced any gender bias or inequality during your career? 

The subtlety and insidious nature of gender bias and inequality is exactly what makes it so difficult to address. While there are clear, explicit examples of outward inequality, imbalance and bias. Most of us are harmed more by the unapparent events. Currently, this ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is arguable the most destructive to the careers of women in science.

What advice would you give to other women and girls in science to help them in their careers? 

Build a network for friends, supporters, mentors and allies. As much as you can, surround yourself with people who want you to succeed and who know how to help you navigate the biases so ingrained in science. This is one reason we started 500WS, and a major goal of our  Pods (local chapters), to help women scientists find and build their network.

What do you think should be done to improve the current issues and restrictions? 

Change takes patience, diligence and persistence. We can’t expect this to be fixed overnight, but we also can hold our colleagues and scientific societies accountable. Set an example and talk to people you work with about the important issues; join the discussion of scientific societies to ensure they implement diversity and inclusion in their bylaws, use your network (and 500WS) to call out bad examples and offer solutions.


Simone – ETH

What is your position/job title?

Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) for responsive biomedical systems

Have you witnessed or experienced any gender bias or inequality during your career?

Unfortunately, yes, and the level of severeness varies. But also the little things add up, let it be  just a surprised reaction and comments like “Oh, I would have never thought you’d be an engineer”. It leaves you with the feeling that people think this can’t be right. Or a teacher in high school, who picked my male friend for an award although we were point even, with the argument he would fit better. Or I was once accused of betraying an exam because I apparently “overexcelled”. The movement #ilooklikenaengineer two years ago was thus hitting my heart. And well, on the other end we have to fight now comments like “She probably just got this because she is a woman”, which makes it harder to accept offers that come with a quota, it’s a bitter sweet choice. But I believe all the fights we take now will pave the way for our next generation and they will hopefully have it easier, so that gender bias should be in future no point of discussion in science anymore.

What advice would you give to other women and girls in science to help them in their careers?

Hang in there! For now, there will be still men who don’t believe in women in their field. Ignore them or better: prove them wrong! It was often hard in the beginning, but in hindsight I think this environment made me even stronger. If times are difficult, see it as a boot camp that will make you stronger. Learn to advocate for yourself and your fellow women and don’t be shy about it. I have to remind myself about that too, almost every day.

What do you think should be done to improve the current issues and restrictions?

Encourage next generations of girls to tap into STEM fields – or simply whatever they are interested in. We have to avoid gender bias by any means, especially when they are young. This bias is unfortunately still everywhere—children clothing that suggests girls are pretty and boys are heroes. All kids are heroes of course!
Please feel free to leave feedback and we will try and get back to you as soon as possible 🙂.

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