Women in natural science – chapter 2

Many were the reactions to my last blog, not from a single man, but from women. All of them, women working at universities, and active in science, tell the same old story. They all have three jobs at the same time: (i) work at the university – teaching, supervising, laboratory work, fieldwork, writing manuscripts, administration; (ii) work at home – cleaning, cooking, gardening, furnishing, washing, paying bills; (iii) taking care of one to three children – fixing their food, their clothes, bringing/fetching them at the day care centre, bringing/fetching them from their various activities, organising kid parties. And some even have a fourth job: taking care of their male partner – buying his clothes, organizing his wardrobe, ironing his shirts, cleaning up his mess.

Running four parallel jobs and having weekly working hours of more than 80, plus sleepless nights, is quite an achievement. But it does unfortunately not count at all when it comes to competing for university positions or research funding. The only things that count are the number of published articles, the citation index, the number of supervised PhD students and the teaching. Clearly women and men compete for positions with completely different preconditions.

Of course some may say that I am exaggerating the situation, and that many men now equally share the household burden and childcare. Sure, some do, but these few are still a minority. It is thanks to these few men that the few women at universities manage a successful science career. And it is thanks to the majority of men, that the majority of women do not manage a successful science career.

Thirty-one years ago, my husband and I started to share equally, childcare and household duties; we worked 50% each at the university and with our science projects, and we were home half of the week taking care of our daughter and of the house. We did this not during one year, but for at least ten years, and although it was difficult during times, both of us managed well; we got a lot of work done, each completed his/her degree in time and we found science jobs. When I tell this to people, I get the following comments: one cannot survive in Sweden on two 50% positions, 50% positions are not available and discriminating, half-time positions are a disadvantage, many employers will not allow half-time positions, and so on. And during all my years in Sweden, I have not met a single person who actually works halftime and is home half of the time. Some (mainly women) may work 80%, while their partners work 100 or 120%. Women also more often stay at home, a full year or more after having given birth to a child, with the following reason: the partner earns more money! Just imagine the number of articles one could publish working 50% during two years as compared to 0% during the same time!

Gender science has emerged as a topic during the past 30 years, but I cannot see that gender science has actually had any large impact on this situation. If it had, we should now see as many women being employed at universities as men, and with equal salaries. We should also not see blue and green colored clothing for boys and pink colored clothes for girls, specific toys for boys and specific toys for girls, targeted advertisements for girls and for boys, journals entitled ‘Mama’ or ‘Pregnant’ (of course featuring a woman), and, and, and ….

I guess after all, the only persons who can really change the situation are women themselves, and those men who see it as a responsibility to share childcare and household duties equally, independent from what the salary is, or what the employer thinks.

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2 Responses to Women in natural science – chapter 2

  1. Helena L. Filipsson says:

    Dear Barbara

    Many thanks for discussing my comment in Nature Geosciene, June issue ( http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v4/n6/full/ngeo1163.html). I have received a number of comments from colleagues around the world, all sharing their personal experiences. I have also read your posts with great interest. That women end up begin the family project leader is something I think unites women all across the globe, despite career. My sister in law (Gunilla Bergensten) has even written an angry but funny book about it (Familjens projektledare säger upp sig (the family project leader resigns)). However, it is hard to look at the bigger picture when it is something so close to heart. I always find comfort in looking at actual numbers. Recently I read two reports from Högskoleverket (Swedish National Agency for Higher Education): Forskarkarriär för både kvinnor och män?– statistisk uppföljning och kunskapsöversikt (report 2011:6 R) and Kvinnor och män i högskolan (report 2008:20 R) also available in English (report 2007:54 R). They include lots of interesting statistics, one conclusion they draw is that more women than men stay in academia after getting their PhD (I thought it was the opposite) but more men than women become professors. Women scientists are also less satisfied with their work environment their male colleagues, Why is that and why do they then stay? Is it all due to personal choices? Is it something that we can do anything about? Interesting questions to think about. Trevlig sommar /Helena

    • Dear Helena,
      thanks very much for your reply. I have heard about the book by Gunilla Bergensten, but have not read it yet.

      I think the reason why women are less satisfied than men when it comes to working environments is that men do not care if rooms are half dirty, corridors are loaded with rubbish, or toilets are neglected. Men do not bother that much about inter-personal relationships either, or about a healthy, happy and open working environment. Of course some do, but I think the majority does not. I also think that men have a very different approach in handling problems, and they often have a special jargon, which does not appeal to women.

      I wish you a nice and relaxing summer!

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