It’s no secret that women in STEM still face a difficult struggle to reach gender parity. Many women working in science, technology, engineering and math report everything from “boy’s club” hiring practices to toxic working environments. STEM fields, like many other industries have a long way to go before they’re properly gender balanced. A new study published in Nature by female geoscientists and engineers diagnoses the problem more thoroughly — and offers some pretty brilliant solutions.
According to previously collected data, the women behind the study explain, women around the world show no shortage of passion for STEM: they make up 53 percent of global undergraduate and Masters students in science and 43 percent of PhDs, but only 28 percent manage to become researchers. The numbers get narrower the further you get up the ladder: in Europe in 2013, women made up only 24 percent of tenured science academics and only 13 percent of professors. And the problem isn’t that things are “still catching up”; there have been enough qualified women to do these jobs for decades. The structural barriers in place simply aren’t letting them get there.
The women also did a survey of over 300 people in their own field. Their numbers showed some pretty chronic under-representation in all the most vital areas, from journal publications to big scientific committees and high-prestige jobs at universities and institutions. Female researchers surveyed reported extensive gender stereotyping and not being taken seriously, a chronic lack of female role models in higher jobs, and being excluded from social events and attempting to network or get funding. It’s only a small study, but the trends aren’t exactly new.
The scientists behind the survey came up with a seven-point plan, and it sounds like it could truly knock gender bias on the head. And, importantly, they apply to men as well as women, and can be implemented across a broad swathe of industries.
The researchers laid out their plan as follows:
- Advocate for more women in prestige roles;
- Promote high-achieving females;
- Create awareness of gender bias;
- Speak up;
- Get better support for return to work;
- Redefine success; and,
- Encourage more women to enter the discipline at a young age.
The study’s conclusion outlines more actionable ways to implement these steps. “I think there are many [female] role models out there, but not enough are publicised the way males are,” one survey respondent noted, referring to step two. And the researchers also placed an emphasis on having all members of the community, not just marginalized ones, speak up when they see examples of bias happening: “(sadly) men might be more inclined to listen when a fellow male engineer calls them out on their sexism,” another respondent said, according to the study.
Furthermore, on a structural level, things need to change. “It could be having a secure position and contributing to the field while working flexible hours and enjoying life beyond work, as opposed to being a ‘star performer’ based on often quantitative workplace and disciplinary criteria,” write the researchers. The ‘no home life, all work, all genius’ model tends to discriminate in favour of men.
Finally, giving women the permission and the push to enter STEM disciplines at a young age, and mentoring them when they do, may be a key factor in evening out gender inequality, the scientists note. Clearly women possess both the talent and the love for STEM to study it in huge numbers. But supporting them through their early careers is crucial for helping them to push forward and succeed.
The thing about this seven-part plan of attack is that it’s not just a good idea for STEM. It’s a decent set of approaches for any industry that deals with gender and wants to make women a key, respected and equal element. If you work in another industry or business entirely, but recognize that some of these approaches will seriously help out, go on and start making them a thing.
By JR THORPE