By Anuradha Damale
An insider’s view: why are we lacking women?
There are more female scientists now than there have ever been. Fields such as medicine, psychology, and pathology all have more female students – even at postgraduate level – than male. Why then, do we so often hear the cry of ‘We need more women in STEM fields!’? STEM being science, technology, engineering, and maths.
As a new #WomenInSTEM blogger, I often consult with statistics to have more reasonably presented thoughts. For the sake of professionalism, I find myself needing a reminder to consider things from every perspective. However, as a female physicist, my gut kicks in, telling me something isn’t quite right. Even at an undergraduate level, I regularly find myself feeling out of place, regardless of the fact that I am just as qualified to be studying Physics as any of my male peers.
Studies published by the New Scientist magazine have shown that even though there is a new surge in women studying STEM subjects, there has been a severe decline in female-lead authorship of scientific papers. Surely this is counter-intuitive, and evidence of gender bias?
It could be argued that female scientists at a post-graduate level are faced with tough decisions; do they choose to raise a child, or further their career? Or is this an indication that institutions need to be more sensitive to the fact that women are, for some reason, not being able to take up more senior research positions? Thirdly, and more terrifyingly, does it have something to do with sexual misconduct?
A Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) report by the University of Illinois reported that of 700 scientists, 64% reported that they had been assaulted by a senior researcher or supervisor, and women were 3.5 times more likely to be assaulted than men. This is not okay. How can we expect our female scientists to feel safe in professional environments, or to ask for a recommendation for promotion with the fear of what they might have to subject themselves to? The system is currently failing women.
To conquer this, we need to start at a young age. We need to remind girls in science classes at school that lab goggles don’t make them look ugly, because people will be distracted by the awesome science they are doing! We need to remind young women doing internships that they can dress however they want, and shouldn’t allow the fear of anyone eyeing them up stop them from proving their scientific prowess. And we need to assure women that it is okay to not be okay: speak out, and claim back your career. Save someone from having to deal with what you dealt with.
Photo Credit:Anuradha Damale