A couple of weeks ago, I joined the STEM Women management team. We are a not-for-profit run by three women of colour: Professor Rajini Rao, Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and myself. Our goal is to improve the visibility and participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We have a number of exciting initiatives coming up, including a series of fortnightly Google+ Hangouts (broadcast on our YouTube), hosted by Buddhini and myself (with Rajini behind the scenes). This includes Hangouts with women talking about their careers in STEM; discussions with organisations about practical programs that address women’s inclusion; analysis of topical issues impeding progress and how to move forward; as well as conversations with men about how they can help support women and how we can address gender inequality together.
Earlier today Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and I co-hosted the first of our new fortnightly interview series, and Rajini womaned our social media live. We chatted with Professor Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist specialising in microbiome research and editor-in-chief of the open-access journal PLoS Biology. Jonathan was a fantastic guest who spoke candidly about the need for male academics to be more proactive in addressing inequality. He gave some practical examples of how women’s participation in science can be bolstered by simple measures, such as by: offering childcare as part of academic conference services; through diversity training for hiring panels; and providing better mentorship for young women in science.
I gave a shout out to sociology during the Hangout. I noted that while sociologists still face career barriers regarding race, gender, sexuality and other minority relations, we have a shared language to discuss inequality. Sociology is centrally concerned with addressing disadvantage, so we have the vocabulary and training to start conversations about these issues. Most other disciplines don’t talk about inequality at all. This means that women are expected to suffer in silence and navigate career barriers alone. As Buddhini points out, academia represents a “leaky pipe” where the further up you go in an academic faculty, the less women and minorities there are.
Gender and diversity matters should be central to all academic training, at every level, and for all disciplines.
There is a plethora of studies showing inequality is a fact in science. STEM Women starts off from this position and so we ask: what are going to do to move forward and address this disadvantage?