Lately I have been listening a lot to ‘the gender knot’ - a very interesting podcast that tries (and somewhat accomplishes) to disentangle the innate differences that exist between men and women, and gives some keys to try and decifer the other gender..
And, listening to the podcast I realised that .. ‘I am a feminist but ..’ (those familiar with podcasts world might be familiar with this line , part of the guilty feminist podcast of which I am also an avid listener..)
Yes, I am a feminist but.. I am writing this somewhat controversial piece about women in science, and please do read on and give me your opinion. I’d like to hear from men in the field, women who made it and women who gave it up. And if you are not a scientist, also please feel free to give me your opinion..
“Women in science” is such a controversial topic. Look around you , in your lab, and you may believe the problem is overcome. You may think that it’s just a thing of the past. Your lab is likely full of busy (young) women. But look more closely, and instead of looking side to side, look upwards, and problem is very evident. Chances are that a great majority of the people holding higher position (lecturers, professors) are male. You can see a pyramid where the number of women gets smaller and smaller as you climb the ladder while the number of men follows an inverted pyramid scheme.
Is it just a generational gap that needs to close? (a problem of the past and we yet have to see the results of a shift?) Or is there more, something else, behind it?
As you can already guess, I am not entirely taken with the above explanations.
So.. what else could be driving this shift? What if it’s more than simply having a family and we are just using it as an excuse (washing our hands of the problem)?
I think it can have to do with working hours, working ethic and differences in stress handling between men and women (potentially related to the different functioning of our brains…). Now, don’t shoot me in the head and close the browser before you read on.
Science is hard and requires weird working times. For example, I try to have an 8-5(or 6) working attitude but nonetheless I will check my emails and I will respond to students or professors at any time that I open my emails. I cannot ‘ignore them till later or tomorrow’. The former, from my students, because I really want them to do well, I care. The latter, from my professors, because I always and constantly feel ‘tested’ and so my aspirations to succeed, impress and demonstrate that “I can”, take over. This is incredibly stressful. And here comes my idea, I believe that stress is perceived differently by men and women. Or better I think there are different thresholds. While men also get very stressed (and apparently can get more stressed than women in terms of hormonal stress measurements) i think they can handle more before getting stressed. Women can multitask better, but maybe multitask too much, take on too much that they can handle (perhaps also to impress and try to make it into a men dominated world? here we have a chicken and the egg situation) and get stressed. But i was thinking: because historically women have had to do more extra thing including taking care of the family, while men always just had to work, could it be that maybe more women eventually see through it and see it as not worthy? Again, we are back to not wanting it and a family, but I think from a different approach here. Women want it, really want it, but then it’s too much and they realise they are better off giving it up. Men historically were always the ones working, so maybe they don’t see it, maybe they can just focus on it and get on through to a tight deadline with just 4 hour of sleep in a week. I know I couldn’t survive on so little myself (this is a true example).
I heard a theory that women care more , take more time, reply longer, sooner, more nicely in some cases. While men tend to be more rational and just get it done. I have observed it but I also noticed that it’s not entirely true. I have also had incredibly nice male professors who took their time with me, improving my career and chances.
So, is it just that more men can handle it better? Should we pack it in as a defeat? I am not suggesting women are inferiors, just suggesting maybe we are not as cut for the job as it stands right now.
So - if we want to (and i think we should) encourage a more equal platform - how do we go about it??
I hope to have sparked some thoughts for a Sunday, and I really want to hear from you regardless of who you are gender wise, and whether you are inside or outside of academia and science. If you are on the outside, what would you like a good scientist to do?
Can’t wait for the start of the BES (British Ecological Society) annual conference, which on Monday morning is featuring a women in science informal meeting. So hope to discuss this with some of the attendee! And if you are attending - see you bright and early on Monday to discuss how to make it through over some nice coffee.
I, for one, am not going to give up!
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