In my role as member of an advisory committee for a large research network, I attended a board meeting a few weeks ago. As so often before, I was the only woman present during this two-day meeting, where around 15 scientists presented and discussed the progress that had been made in this large research project. The two days were a strange experience, male talks, male jokes, male networking, and male sports conversation. I felt like an alien and was vividly reminded of my time as a student, when geology was still completely male dominated and when professors could make stupid and sexist jokes about women. Feeling openly offended by these jokes was just not possible.
Last week one of my friends sent me a text message: am at a conference, more than 250 men, but only about 20 women – is this the year 2012 or have I been pulled twenty years back in time?
And today another friend commented about gender issues in Academia on Facebook, especially about the fact that so few women are invited as keynote speakers to conferences and meetings, and how insulting it feels for women in science not to be considered – over and over again. 50% or more of our PhD students are women, she wrote, and yet what do they see when they go to conferences? 5% female speakers and 95% male speakers, or maybe 20% female speakers and 80% male speaker … No wonder why these female students don’t see a future for themselves.
Another FB friend replied that she had had a hard time with the old boys network, with being on temporary contracts, with a heavy teaching load and struggling between job and family. And that this was the reason for her to quit it all. Indeed, the over-exploitation of women for teaching and for research administration (yes that’s where they are needed) makes it almost impossible to also find time to do research and to publish! On top of all this comes the fact that women do not have good mentors, and that they are exposed to stupid comments that are often at the edge of sexism. No wonder that so many women quit and never again want to set foot into academic life!
A follow-up FB comment also addressed the difficulties of becoming part of a network, and of being pushy enough to get into these. But here we have another problem: pushy women are usually tagged bitches, while pushy men are tagged ambitious! Female networks and mutual support and encouragement? Yes ok, but have we not had all that already years ago and is science not a pretty individualistic thing, especially when it comes to getting money, H-index, citations, and what’s ever.
Yet another FB comment stated that it is also important to think of the ultimate aim – it’s not simply about getting more women to the top, but it is about creating an environment that is compatible with family life for both men and women which will encourage more women to stay in the profession as well as more of the type of men we would all actually prefer to work with. This of course needs some heavy reflection and actions from those who are in power and who have the possibilities to make changes!
It is so easy to choose your (male) buddy, instead of reflecting about an equal representation of men and women. Because this would mean that one has to scratch one’s head and give it a thorough thought, it also means that one would need to know what women have actually published, and who these women are …
In the editorial of this week’s journal Nature (2012, vol. 491, p. 495) the editors finally responded to a Correspondence, which was published earlier this year (Conley and Stadmark, Nature 488, 590) and which criticized Nature for its lack of invited female authored contributions. Finally Nature acknowledges that Conley and Stadmark had a clear-cut point! “There is a need for every editor to ask themselves ´who are the five women I could ask?´” So, if Nature starts to go in this direction, then maybe also the organizers of conferences will soon ask themselves ´who are the five women I could ask?´