15 March 2021

A bit of background on gender issues

I wrote my previous post on women in science based only on my own experience. But I am a scientist! Surely, I realise that there is more data out there and that it matters. And I do. So I thought I illustrate my words with a few references. Not as many as I would have done if I would have been paid to do this. I'm writing this on a Saturday and I would like to spend my weekend days outside in the beautiful landscape. Not at my desk, rummaging through literature! But this is an issue close to my heart so I at least dug out a few examples.

So am I making this up, about the mismatch between the opinions of the women who are leaving or considering it, and the men in power who think there is no problem? It seems not. Look up some studies where identical CVs, but with different names on, were judged by large numbers of employers, and you are likely to read that a white-sounding, male name tends to get the most praise. And the best salary. And to make things worse; I found a study where they had actually asked these employers whether there was any gender bias in their company. The more they said no, the bigger the difference was between the salary they would give "John" and "Elizabeth". Was this a flawless study? Well, no; I would have liked to see the descriptive statistics on the data. This same study said that the people who said that there was a gender problem gave "Elizabeth" the higher salary, but they said this difference was not statistically robust. I want to see a p value! Show your data. Let the data speak. But it looks like this is exactly what happens in the School of Ocean sciences; it's the men that  that are keeping the system in place, which are the ones congratulating themselves on their exemplary views on gender equality.

I also found an article that interviewed lots of scientists, both male and female, and at various stages of their career. It is interesting to see what explanations they offer for the gender disparity, the difference there is between the males and females, and how people's views change through their career. One of the aspects they touch on is the availability (or lack thereof) of role models and mentors. I am not surprised! Another article ventures into darker territory and, in addition to the usual factors, touches upon harassment too.

Read here in article about how science benefits from having both genders on board. A balanced demographic doesn't only benefit the people who have so far been largely absent.

And what about men in female-dominated environments? These tend to be promoted faster than the surrounding women. There is even term for it; the glass escalator. So I said that I thought that no environment should be dominated by just one gender, but it looks like there is quite some evidence that even where women dominate, men are still at the advantage. Not really encouraging. And food for thought. Imagine trying to make your way in science if you not only are a woman, but you are also not white! I am still speaking from a position of privilege. But that shouldn't stop me from trying to make a difference there where I do not have privilege. I was disgruntled when I was contemplating International woman's day, and in order to do something productive with that I joined the Fawcett Society. I'll vote with my feet and my wallet! I haven't yet actively engaged, but I am writing this less than a week after said day, and it's been quite the week. Of course it was; I work in academia. But Easter is approaching and then I can contemplate a bit more how I can actively make a difference! I think I am straying a bit from my theoretical underpinning, but of course just being aware of the data is not enough. Trying to make a difference is the next step.

PS Some more links on race and CV appreciation here and here and here.

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