The Women’s Work Nature special is dedicated to Maxine Clarke. In the 28 years Maxine spent supporting the highest scientific standards as an editor at Nature, she was all too often the only one to ask, “Where are the women?”
Published today, a special issue of Nature discusses how science remains institutionally sexist. The issue takes a look the gender gap and what’s being done to bridge it. Female scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men.
We know there’s still a lot to do to attain gender equality in science and during November’s SpotOn London conference, we touched on some of these issues with a session dedicated to women in science. Organised by researchers Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner, the session aimed to tackle the fact male scientists are more likely to engage with online science-related activities, like blogging and tweeting, than female scientists. You can watch a video archive of the session here.
In the run-up to the talk we hosted a collection of blog posts on the SpotOn site, examining the issues associated with gender equality in science and how female scientists can improve their visibility, specifically online. You can find an overview of the session here: Improving visibility of female scientists online. Below is a summary of the featured posts, divided by topic.
Why female scientists should blog
Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge looks at the challenges of using social media and blogging as a way to overcome the frequent invisibility of women in science:
… If you start a blog, what then? How do you get a readership? Do you have to do that dreadful thing ‘self-promote’ in order to make sure people read it and is that anathema for many would-be bloggers (as for women in other instances as I discussed here)? ….I found it painful to self-promote at the outset, but I have more or less got inured to doing so through Twitter. But as recent experiences showed me, there is more to it than just that, and support from friends is vital in keeping fighting the good fight.
Mentoring female scientists online
Anonymous blogger and one of Athene’s role models, the FemaleScienceProfessor details why an older female scientist should blog and how she has ended up becoming a mentor:
“I write about a wide range of topics, including those related to ‘gender-directed weirdness’, but the blog long ago morphed into one with a ‘older FSP tries to demystify academic science for younger people’ theme. I inadvertently became a virtual mentor.
Blogging is an easy way to do good as a mentor, having a positive effect on many more people than you can reasonably mentor in real life. And this type of e-mentoring is not afflicted by the complications of personality or anxiety, such as might happen if you are a tenure-track professor assigned a mentor who will ultimately vote on your tenure fate.”
Following the mentor theme, polar scientist Cath Waller of the University of Hull, thinks the shortage of female mentors means female scientists need to be more supportive of each other. She makes a plea to female academics:
“You have something to offer. Think about mentoring.”
Why females need to get online and how to behave when you are on there
Claire Asher, a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, looks at how technology is changing the scientific process, just as social media is changing the way we can communicate it. She encourages female scientists to get online or risk being left behind:
“… some studies have indicated that women are less likely to participate in online discussions and tend to write shorter messages when they do get involved. It isn’t clear whether this is due to prejudice experienced by women online, or through their own internal reluctance to participate in online communities.”
Michael McCarthy, coordinator of the Environmental Science stream of the masters programs at The University of Melbourne, highlights why social media can be rewarding for connecting people across the globe:
“Social media provides the opportunity to have a wider impact. For example, a post on my teaching blogby Georgia Garrard and me described a one-hour graduate seminar discussion about women in science. The number of readers of the post has been about 100 times* the number of students in the class.”
Continuing a similar theme, Dr Heather Williams, a Senior Medical Physicist for Central Manchester University Hospitals and Director of ScienceGrrl, considers the ways we can communicate using social networks. Heather urges us to be mindful there is always a real person behind a social persona. We need to support female scientists online, as well as offline:
“Making sure that social networks remain largely friendly and supportive places (as is my experience) is also critical in encouraging more people to join them and use them to voice their opinions and share their experiences. I was listening in to the Women in Science session at SpotOn today (via the #solo12WIS hashtag), and was interested to hear several women comment that they didn’t have the confidence to blog and tweet. This lack of confidence appeared closely related to a fear of making mistakes and looking unprofessional, ill-informed, incorrect, and well…a bit stupid, which women seem to be more prone to than men. So, being kind and encouraging online may also go a long way to alleviating this fear and redressing the gender imbalance amongst bloggers and tweeters.”
Ellie Watkins, a PhD student at the University of Oxford, talks about her future career path as a female scientist and how Twitter can offer advice for those in similar situations:
“So do I want to go into research after my PhD? I’m still undecided, but reading the articles on the SpotOn blog and others I have found through Twitter has certainly given me a fresh perspective. Learning about the experiences of other women, with their highs, lows, questions and advice, has made me realise that there is a global network of female scientists there for support. It has also enabled me to reflect upon the many successful women in my department who have done fantastic work, some of whom – including my supervisor – have managed to balance a scientific career with children. Perhaps it isn’t impossible after all.”
Natalie Cooper, Assistant Professor at the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, details how and why she prioritizes her online activity, and how Twitter can actually save time in the long run:
“…. I think the benefits of twitter go far beyond those of promoting yourself online. Although it takes time, if you can manage that time into sensible short blocks I think you can save yourself time in the long run. And if you’re a busy junior faculty member like me (or a busy senior faculty member for that matter), being able to discuss research on twitter can remind you why you got into academia in the first place!”
Athene Donald offers another blog post explaining why she makes time to tweet and how it can improve the working culture for female scientists:
“So, for me, Twitter has been an eye-opening experience of finding out how to disseminate and receive information speedily and with minimum time involved (reading the articles takes the time, not tweeting about them or reading other people’s tweets!). When one of my posts gets widely read and retweeted, I am heartened (and equally, I am disappointed when a post appears not to strike a chord). “
The representations of women
Judith Willetts, the CEO of the British Society for Immunology looks at how female scientists are represented in the news media and how this may impact their decisions to join social sites and talk about their science:
“A study was conducted where the profiles of 51 scientists were analysed as they appeared in the UK national press from January to June 2006. ‘Half of the profiles of women referred to their clothing, physique and/or hairstyle whereas this was only true for 21% of the profiles of men’ (Chimba & Kitzinger, 2010). These two authors also conducted research into the press attention given to two prominent female scientists, Professors Kathy Sykes and Susan Greenfield. They concluded that a disproportionate amount of coverage was given to their appearance, which was covered in immense detail. They also noted the amount of space given to their gestures and their sexual attractiveness. They have both been described as ‘putting the sex into science’. “
Tammy Davies from the University St Andrews explains how having an online presence enables female scientists to put themselves out there as they want to be seen, helping to dispel stereotypes:
“The archaic stereotype of a scientist can be broken and the negative connotations banished. Women scientists need to get themselves out there. Admittedly I’m could do more to increase my online profile – I have my own webpage, I’m on LinkedIn, Research Gate and have blogged from time to time. A concerted effort from female scientists could improve the profile of some women and inspire others. “
Dr Judith Lock, a Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, describes her own “imposter syndrome” and how career development for female scientists can be aided by an online presence:
“…the proportion of females applying for early career positions is lower than the national average proportion of female PhD students, and that this is where the gender bias in academic positions begins. An online presence could provide female PhD and early career postdoctoral researchers with the confidence to value themselves as scientists who should continue their career in academia.”
Aliénor Chauvenet, a post doc at the Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, encourages female post-docs to make the effort to actively self-promote online which will hopefully stop imposter syndrome feelings:
“…. I would like to encourage all the young female post-docs out there to make the effort to actively self-promote online. Don’t just have a webpage or tweet when you have a new paper out, because if you are like me, that’s not that often, yet. Instead, seek people out, start conversations on Twitter, blog about your life as a young scientist; get people to know your name!”
As part of this discussion, Nathalie and Seirian also compiled a useful toolkit of resources for female scientists looking to improve/promote her profile online and offline. You can add your own resources to the document here and make sure you share the document.