Women in natural science – chapter 3

The more I enquire about the why-so-few-women-in-higher-positions-in-our-universities-issue with male and female colleagues in Sweden, the clearer the picture seems to become.

Of course it is a tough struggle for many women to advance with their career and to take care of their children at the same time. But many also tell me that this is doable with the help of partners, friends and families, and often it is just a matter of how to best arrange things. However one important issue also arises, that of not falling into the trap of becoming the perfect mother.

My female colleagues also tell me that they had not really experienced discrimination when it came to obtaining faculty positions or research grants, and many felt that they had been judged based on their scientific merits.

What stands out however and what seems to be a recurrent problem is a – in many cases – very sublime male power demonstration and, as a result a work environment in which women do not feel comfortable. I have no idea if men are aware of this sublime demonstration of power, or if it is just part of the inbuilt male gene.  But many are the stories I have heard over the past weeks when women felt abused, offended and taken aback by the way their male colleagues treated them: sitting in a board meeting and not being noticed at all or not being taken serious by the other men in the group; comments from male colleagues on clothes and make-up, comments that are supposed to be friendly, but are often degrading; the buddy and networking stories, which almost always exclude women; plotting behind people’s backs; playing chess games with employees; comments such as ‘isn’t this typical female’; or, when women really do not give in ‘she is really a bitch’; some women have tried to adapt to this male game to fit in better, but later realized that by doing so they had only become trapped in a behaviour that is really alien to them.

This list can be made much longer, of course, but I leave it to these few issues. Many of these comments/actions are so sublime and thus hardly noticed, but they leave small itches that can and will grow over time. The consequences are that women, who cannot stand these behaviours, will not feel well and will prefer to search for a more benign working environment. Now, what I have written above relates to a work place that is still dominated by men. But I assume that a working environment that is dominated by women will also be graced by numerous problems and would not be the healthiest one. The game would be played according to female rules that would not be well understood by the few men.

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2 Responses to Women in natural science – chapter 3

  1. curt rice says:

    Good comments. Part of the solution is recognizing the importance of reaching a “tipping point”. Some of the research (e.g. the McKinsey “Women Matter” reports) suggest that the positive effects of women in organizations become clear when one first reaches about 35% women.

    I wrote yesterday about a project we’re doing in Tromsø that is related to these issues:
    The promotion project: Getting more women professors: http://t.co/eSpEW6n

    There’s quite a bit more on related issues there, e.g. these two:
    Why hire (wo)men?: http://t.co/0utvQjJ
    A slow thaw for women: http://t.co/peTsWgW

    Carry on!
    Curt Rice
    Prorektor R&D
    U. Tromsø

    • Hallo Curt,
      thanks very much for your comment. I read your blogs and I am very impressed by the efforts Tromsö University is making to increase the number of women in higher research positions. I’ll also have a closer look at the genSET project, which looks very interesting. Actually two of my friends contribute to the 25% of female professors at Tromsö University!
      Best wishes
      Barbara

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