“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.” —Marie Curie
It’s always been difficult for women in the STEM field. That’s one of the reasons why there are fewer women than men in science. Girls who display an interest in science and technology start to feel ashamed of these hobbies before they even reach high school because they don’t conform to what is seen as typical girl interests. This sets the precedent for a wide gap between genders later on.
The gap between men and women in computer science-related jobs does not show any signs of slowing down or reversing. Women only hold 27 percent of all computer science jobs, 7 percent of CIOs’ positions are held by females, and one in seven engineers is a woman. This fact is despite the majority of women holding 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees and making up 48 percent of the workforce overall.
Although we are seeing more women go into academic sciences, when these academics try to enter the commercial science field—by patenting their discoveries or serving on Scientific Advisory Boards, for example—the number of women doing so drops significantly.
The main issue is stereotyping. According to Waverly Ding, an assistant professor of management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, women in commercial sciences are almost 50 percent less likely than their male counterparts to be invited to join corporate scientific advisory boards and start new companies due mainly because they are victims of gender stereotypes. One of the reasons fewer women are in leadership positions is that people perceive them to lack the skills necessary for such roles. According to Sheryl Sandberg, this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. The goal should be “to not affiliate female stereotypes with a lack of leadership.”
Women in science not only receive patents almost half as often as men do, but they also start businesses at a lower rate and receive less funding for their startups, according to Nature.com.
“Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less, win fewer grants, and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. The reasons range from overt and covert discrimination to the unavoidable coincidence of the productive and reproductive years.”
“Women are available,” says Ding. “The numbers are there. They just are not being selected.” In 2002, the data sample’s final year, women earned 30 percent of about 6,000 PhDs from U.S. universities or research institutions; however, just 7 percent of those female scientists served on scientific advisory boards—a percentage that never exceeded 10.2 during the study’s 1972-2002 window according to her research.
The primary issue is that women are typically the ones who take care of children, and being a part of a scientific advisory board usually means having to put in extra hours outside of a typical workday. According to PLOS ONE, even though women put in just as many hours as men, they don’t have as many opportunities for informal networking. Though this is crucial for anyone wishing to pursue an academic career, women perceive much more pressure than men do to complete household duties instead.
Do women in science have it harder than women in other fields? Tell us what you think in the comments!