Category: Workplace issues in STEM

Women face motherhood penalty in STEM careers long before they actually become mothers

Women in Ph.D STEM programs say they were told they had to choose between family and career. janiecbros/E+ via Getty Images

by Sarah Thebaud and Catherine Taylor (University of California Santa Barbara)

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Unfounded assumptions about how motherhood affects worker productivity can harm women’s careers in science, technology, engineering and math long before they are – or even intend to become – mothers, we found in a new study.

It is well known that women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, including in academia. For example, women constituted only 20% of tenured professorships in the physical sciences and 15% in engineering in 2017, despite the fact that their share of doctoral degrees in those fields has increased substantially in recent decades.

We wanted to understand what might be causing women to be more likely than their male peers to forgo science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers in academia. We conducted extensive interviews with 57 childless Ph.D. students and post-doctoral scholars – both men and women – in natural science and engineering programs at elite U.S. research universities.

The interviews covered a wide range of topics, including workplace experiences and relationships, personal background and career and family plans. Using the data obtained from the interviews, we analyzed gender differences in intentions to pursue a career as a professor after earning a doctorate.

We found that, upon entering the Ph.D. program, men and women were equally interested in working as a professor after finishing their degree. But, by the time of our interviews, women were twice as likely as men to say they had decided not to pursue a career as a professor after all.

Our analysis ruled out a variety of factors that might explain this gender pattern, such as the interviewee’s discipline, their partner’s career and their age. Instead, we found that women who had changed their minds about becoming a professor cited a workplace culture that assumes motherhood – but not fatherhood – is incompatible with an academic career. We dubbed this the “specter of motherhood.”

Several of the women we interviewed said their advisers explicitly told them they have to choose between an academic career and a family and that “there’s more to life than babies.” Women also said they experienced intense pressure to reject, denigrate or hide the mere possibility of motherhood for fear of no longer being taken seriously in the profession. Some went to great lengths, such as hiding medically dangerous miscarriages or strategically telling others that they didn’t intend to have children.

One student recounted how, at a panel on gender issues in STEM, a woman professor’s “gist was that having children is sort of narcissistic. And she’s above that … like, simpletons want to have kids.”

Why it matters

Research shows that mothers in high-status, elite professions – ones that demand significant levels of training and long work hours – are no less committed or productive than fathers or childless peers. Yet inaccurate stereotypes persist and are a critical source of discrimination.

The irony is that, despite workplace cultures that can be hostile to motherhood, elite, often male-dominated, careers can be very favorable for parents – at least when it comes to overall levels of pay and access to benefits. The very things that make these jobs desirable in the first place – such as high salaries, flexible work hours, access to health insurance and high-quality child care – also make them particularly supportive of parenting.

But if the culture of these workplaces pushes women out, it makes it doubly hard to challenge these damaging stereotypes.

What still isn’t known

An outstanding question is the extent to which women in elite and male-dominated occupations that we did not study, like corporate law and finance, might be similarly affected by the “specter of motherhood.”

Some evidence suggests that they are.

If the problem is pervasive across many industries and workplaces, targeted policies like improved child care or more flexible hours are important, but not enough. Leaders also need to proactively challenge the narrative that motherhood can’t coexist with success in an elite career.

Sarah Thebaud, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara and Catherine Taylor, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Preprint ban in grant applications deemed ‘plain ludicrous’

Read the full story from Nature.

The Australian Research Council’s decision to reject early-career funding applications that mention preprints is hopelessly outdated, say scientists.

Lack of non-English languages in STEM publications hurts diversity

Read the full story from Northwestern University.

With today’s existing translation tools to overcome language barriers, global collaboration should be no major feat for researchers. Yet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, articles published in Chinese journals focusing on critical aspects of the disease were often never cited by English journals. As a result, U.S. academics wasted precious time performing research thereby replicating already published results.

Researchers cannot simply push papers through simple translation tools and turn out legible multilingual science. And, in the absence of human translators trained in technical subject matter readily available, most researchers choose to publish science, technology engineering and math (STEM) research in the dominant English language.

Now a team of graduate students at Northwestern University aims to change that.

In a paper published today (Aug. 31) titled “A Call to Diversify the Lingua Franca of Academic STEM Communities” in the Journal of Science Policy & Governance, members of Northwestern’s Science Policy Outreach Taskforce (SPOT) call for new government policy measures to create a path to linguistic diversity in STEM publications.

Youth engagement in environmental health research showcased in podcast

Read the full story at Environmental Factor.

A new NIEHS Partnerships for Environmental Public Health podcast titled “Engaging Youth in Research” highlights exciting outreach efforts by James Nolan and Jessica Cabrera, who are affiliated with the institute-funded Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Afghanistan’s terrified scientists predict huge research losses

Read the full story in Nature.

For 20 years, science has blossomed in Afghanistan. Now many researchers are fleeing and those who remain face lost funding and the threat of persecution.

Black birders harness social media to push for field safety

Read the full story from WUNC.

Lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic motivated some people to pick up new hobbies, like baking or knitting. Lauren Pharr turned to bird blogging.

“[I was] in my house, just twiddling my thumbs,” Pharr said. “I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, let’s start a blog and start sharing all of my birding info’.”

Pharr is a PhD student and avian ecologist at North Carolina State University pursuing a degree in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology. During lockdown, she started blogging about her research, which investigated the impacts of light and noise pollution on bird survival.

“There were a ton of people who would reach out to me to say, ‘Wow, I never knew how light pollution could impact birds,’ and wanting to know how to fix these environmental issues,” Pharr said. “That’s like the icing on the cake right there, because it lets me know you’re wanting to fix this problem. You’re wanting to be part of the solution.”

A year later, Pharr posts regularly on her Instagram and Twitter accounts about birding. She is an intern with the North Carolina Sea Grant and has written several blog posts for The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science series.

But as a Black birder, science communication has grown to be about more than sharing research for Pharr. It’s also about visibility: letting her roughly 6,000 Twitter followers and 6,000 Instagram followers know about her experiences as a Black birder, and the ground that remains to be covered when it comes to keeping her safe in the field.

Why women need male allies in the workplace – and why fighting everyday sexism enriches men too

Women who perceive their male colleagues as allies are more likely to feel included in a workplace. 10’000 Hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

by Meg Warren (Western Washington University)

Women and groups advocating for gender equality are increasingly urging men to become allies in the fight.

Research has shown that in the absence of male support, women have to shoulder the burden of battling routine workplace sexism such as misogynist humor and microaggressions on their own. This can lead to a sense of isolation, stress and exhaustion.

But what difference can one un-sexist man make?

My colleagues and I had a hunch that the actions of individual male allies – even through simple acts such as highlighting the strengths of female colleagues or checking in on their well-being – might serve as a counterweight to the negative effects of everyday sexism. But not only that, we decided to study how that might impact men as well.

How to behave like an ally

My colleagues and I tested these hunches in a new study published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities.

We recruited 101 pairs of male and female colleagues employed in male-dominated departments across 64 research universities in the United States and Canada. We asked department heads to distribute our survey to female faculty members, and we then invited the women who responded to nominate a male colleague they work with regularly to take a companion survey.

We asked the women to what extent the male colleague they nominated behaved as an ally, such as by taking public stances on issues facing women and standing up when he sees discrimination. We also asked women if they felt like the colleague appreciated them – which is seen as a sign of inclusion – and how enthusiastic they felt working with him.

We asked the men to what extent they thought they behaved as allies, such as by reading up on the unique experiences of women or confronting sexist colleagues. We also wanted to know the extent to which they felt their support for women helped them “do better things” with their lives and acquire new skills that help them become a “better family member.” All answers were reported on a scale.

More inclusion for women, more growth for men

Just under half of women rated their male colleague as a strong ally. We found that women who perceived their male colleagues as allies reported higher levels of inclusion than those who didn’t, which is also why they said they experienced greater enthusiasm in working with them.

In other words, having men as allies in male-dominated workplaces seems to help women feel like they belong, and this helps them function enthusiastically with their male colleagues on the job.

This pattern has important long-term implications. If women feel energized and included, they might be more likely to stay with their employer – rather than quit – and strive to change a sexist workplace.

Men who were more likely to act as allies to women reported proportionately higher levels of personal growth and were more likely to say they acquired skills that made them better husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. This tendency suggests the possibility that being a male ally creates positive ripple effects that extend beyond the workplace.

An important first step

Despite these promising results, our research has a few caveats.

Our study found men and women often have differing perceptions of who is an ally. For example, 37% of women whose male colleagues saw themselves as strong allies disagreed with that assessment. And just over half of the men who were perceived as strong allies by women didn’t see themselves that way.

Yet, men benefited from seeing themselves as allies whether or not their female colleagues agreed. And importantly, women gained from perceiving their male colleagues as allies, even when the latter didn’t view themselves that way.

Our findings are also limited given the small sample size. And we don’t know what the men who identified themselves as allies have actually done, if anything, to help women. But that may be somewhat beside the point.

Ultimately, even men’s mere signaling that they want to be good allies is an important first step toward a shift in the way many men have historically treated the women in their lives. We believe it also leads to more workplace equality.

When women perceive men as supportive colleagues, it makes them feel more integral to the workplace. This suggests a good starting point for men who want to be allies: find more ways to express that support at work.

Meg Warren, Associate Professor of Management, Western Washington University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Six reasons to launch a Young Academy

Read the full story in Nature.

As the first national network of early-career researchers marks its 21st birthday, the founders of Hungary’s describe how and why they set up theirs in 2019.

Stress, anxiety, harassment: huge survey reveals pressures of scientists’ working lives

Read the full story in Nature.

Global study highlights long hours, poor job security and mental-health struggles.

Better together: collaborative spaces can inspire scientists of all ages

Read the full story in Nature.

An area where researchers can gather and informally discuss ideas is the best way to produce innovative inventions, argues Ethan N. Gotian.

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