Picture a scientist

Science not Silence

As a woman in science it feels: the men get a play book but the women don’t.

Picture a scientists describes the empowering women who have made science more accessible to women and minorites:

  1. Challenging equality in pay and resources for women (Nancy)
  2. Reporting inappropriate behaviour & prevent future abuse (Jane)
  3. Diversity in science communication & leading by example (Raychelle)

Did you know that 50% of STEMM staff and faculty [assume in the US] have experiences sexual harassment? This statistic is not improving.

Did you know that only 10% of sexual harassment are advances, assault or coercion? The vast majority are put-downs, subtle exclusions, fewer invitations to collaborate, opinions not as valued as their male colleagues, being overlooked for promotion or opportunities, and unfortunately the list goes on and on.

The academic hierarchy (student-supervisor, postdoc-professor) creates conditions in which harassment flourishes.

Lots if people do not see sexual harassment within their institution. Does that mean it does not exist there? NO! It is invisible and there is a shocking volume of data to say unequivocally
that this is a society problem and that women are disadvantaged in science.

There is a systematic and invisible discrimination against women

In our discussion we reflected on when we first observed the gender diversity issue. For most of us, it was no obvious until we were doing our PhDs or post-docs. That is the point were you experience academic culture, start attending conferences, observe the absence of more senior women, and perhaps, start observing/experiencing gender discrimination or microaggressions. There is still a culture where many men in science do not realise these issues exist.

Stereotypes hold people back. If you don’t fit the pre-conceived notion of what a scientist looks like (a cis white man) then stereotyping likely holds you back. Raychelle: “I did not want to be perceived as the angry black women”. Nancy: “I did not want to be seen as a nasty difficult woman”.

Each of the three women featured in the film described the large amount of time they wasted fighting the system. For Nancy, this was fighting the system for better conditions for Women Professors at MIT. For Jane, this was reporting her abuser and fighting to be heard. For Raychelle it was the everyday racism and stereotyping that she needed to navigate around in her communication with colleagues and her treatment within the University. The time they spent fighting the system is a drain on their emotion and physical well-being, and it is a drain on their energy that they would rather devote to their science.

Speaking out against sexual harassment and bullying is a risk. In the past there have been many examples of abusers being protected by the University as they are a ‘big name and bring in lots of grant money’. Often who report abuse often find themselves leaving academic. There are lots of reasons why people leave but how women are treated in academic is a big one.

A key task for improving the workplace culture of women in STEM is to acknowledge and understand our unconscious biases. Our biases are not malicious but are ingrained in us from a young age. We need to actively learn about our biases and work hard to overcome them.

Science should be a-political, where the best rise to the top. But this is not true, because it is a human endeavour.

Science is subject to all of our brilliance and all of our biases.

Leave a Reply