A Female Perspective in Science

"It's in everyone's best interest to help close the gender gap in the sciences."
~Sarah Brightman
 
This blog was provided courtesy of a female postdoctoral researcher in academia. Her views do not necessarily reflect BioLegend’s.
According to a report recently released by the L’Oréal Foundation, women are three times less likely than men to become scientists. The reasons have a lot to do with the negative stereotypes associated with science and scientists, starting as early as elementary school, and the pressures of raising a family while working in a highly demanding job.

The gender gap in science is startling. See the full article by the L’Oréal Foundation here.
As a female scientist, I have had many experiences that made me question whether I wanted to stay in a field that is dominated by men. Some of my female colleagues have left the lab bench and science in general, ne’er to return, most for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to raise a family or negative stereotypes associated with being a scientist.
The class that I entered graduate school with was 86% female, with 67% of them graduating with a Ph.D. While over half of the postdocs in my current department are women, only 16% of our faculty are women. When the department put out an announcement for an open faculty position, the candidates that were interviewed were all male. As my PI was on the hiring committee, I asked about what happened to the female applicants. The answer I got shocked me: "20% of the applicants were women, but they just weren’t as good as the men. If it were up to me, I would lower the standards for hiring just so we can interview some women as well."

X-factor, Fox Television.
Putting aside the obvious reaction to this statement, it made me think about several issues that were brought up: Why are the women "not as good"? What are the criteria the hiring committee was using for judging the quality of the applicants? One requirement was having at least one first author paper in a high-impact journal. Are women not publishing at the same rate as men in high-impact journals? If so, why not?
A study by Corinne Moss-Racusin et al. published in PNAS showed that there is an active gender bias in science. The subjects were scientists presented with application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position with the intention of going to graduate school afterwards. Half of the subjects received materials with a male name, and the other half received identical materials with a female name attached. The female applicants were consistently rated significantly lower than the males in qualities such as competence, “hire-ability”, and willingness of the scientist to mentor that student. The hiring scientists also offered the female applicants much lower starting salaries than the male applicants. With these results in mind, is gender bias an answer for the lack of female interviewees during the above faculty candidate search?

Analysis of the Corinne Moss-Racusin study...
What can we do to remedy the huge gender gap in the sciences? There are already many programs in place to recruit women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, and they are clearly achieving their goals. I believe that the problem is not necessarily recruiting women to science. We should focus our efforts on retaining them once they are recruited. This may come in the form of pairing trainees with established mentors, or through establishment of Women in Science support groups at all universities. I believe that as the current generation of scientists takes over leadership positions, gender bias and differences will improve. The more we talk about these issues, the better chance we have for equality among the genders.

Seinfeld, NBC Studios.
How do you feel about the gender differences in academia? Let us know here.

For more information, check out these sites:
  1. L’Oréal Foundation
  2. Corinne Moss-Racusin’s Paper on Gender Bias in Academia
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