Athene Donald's Blog

Reflections on working at the physics/biology interface, being a senior woman scientist, and anything else I feel strongly about

Archive for the ‘Science Culture’ Category

Committees and Reverse Discrimination

Posted by Athene Donald on December 7, 2010

Recently I was discussing a new working group that was being set up within the University, and realised that all the members that I had heard named were female.  I queried this and was told that that did indeed seem to be the case. This is just as unacceptable as an all male committee. OK, so the working group was going to be looking at a gender-related issue, but the idea that gender equates to female, and is therefore rightfully discussed only by women is wrong on so many counts I simply don’t want to go there.  Needless to say, I pointed out the problem that was apparently being created and, I hope by the time the working group is actually convened, it will have an appropriately diverse membership.  This is not the first time I have encountered this problem – the last time was when I was invited to join the interview panel for the Equality and Diversity Officer within the university a couple of years ago: again only female names were being proposed until I pointed out how inappropriate this was (and it was indeed rectified).

The whole point about gender equality is it is about equality, and can’t just be seen as ‘women’s issues’ which can be dealt with by women alone.  I hope that in my role as University Gender Equality Champion I will be listening to men and women – and where appropriate dealing with issues for those in the LGBT groups too. Nevertheless it is likely to be the case that issues simply relating to women, who after all represent about half of both the student and staff population, may be the most glaringly obvious, and also the ones where there are easiest ‘wins’ to be made quickly.

One of the blogs I read is that of the US FemaleSciencePofessor.  Reading her blog indicates much that differs between the US and the UK, so that some of the posts she writes don’t necessarily resonate here. But I was struck by a comment she made recently

‘Sometimes it seems like I could write a blog post about how much I like pistachio ice cream, and I would get comments like “Why do you hate men so much? Why are you always writing about sexism? Why do you always twist things to be about gender?”.’

I hope that is not what goes through readers’ minds when they read my blog – or indeed that of my colleagues within the University when they see me in action as a Champion.  Misandry – hatred of men –  is not a word that is heard as often as misogyny, but it has the potential to be just as dangerous. And also, I believe that any actions smacking of it are going to be purely counterproductive.  Some years ago Sir David Wallace (now Master of Churchill College, at the time Treasurer of the  Royal Society and VC of Loughborough University) remarked to me how illuminating he had found it when he had attended some meeting – I suspect about women in science but can no longer remember – and realized he was the only man amidst a large group of women.  He said he had suddenly realized the oddness of the sensation to be in that position, and it had made him appreciate what women in science go through much more clearly. So the slightly more mischievous side of me thinks that putting men on committees within my university where they find themselves in a significant minority, may have unexpected upsides!

Posted in Equality, Science Culture | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Inspirational Gentlemen

Posted by Athene Donald on December 3, 2010

This week I have taken on a new role as Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. School education (like so much in the UK)  is an area of much flux and I can imagine an increasing role for this position talking to civil servants and possibly ministers.  The Royal Society ‘s Education Section is a wonderful group of people, but there are times when wheeling out an FRS is probably advantageous, and I’m sure they will be judicious in their choice of when to play the Committee Chair card.  Thinking about this, reminded me of comments one of my mentors, Professor Sir Sam Edwards, made about dealing with the Civil Service: you always had to approach someone at the same level as yourself if you wanted anything to happen. To paraphrase crudely, aim too high (they wouldn’t acknowledge your existence) or too low (it was more than their job’s worth to respond) and you would get nowhere. I will discover if this advice still applies – his experience dates back to when he was Chair of the EPSRC’s predecessor (the SRC) back in the 70’s.

And thinking about Sam, I thought I would continue on one of my previous themes of what it takes to inspire, tied in with this idea of hierarchy.  As I say, Sam was a mentor of mine although I think I only ever published a single paper with him. A grammar school boy from Wales (a fact of which he was very proud) he had an extremely distinguished career as a theoretical physicist, working on topics such as spin glasses, granular matter (most recently) and, at the time I first knew him (when he was Cavendish Professor in Cambridge), polymer physics. One of his most enduring contributions was work he did with Masao Doi in the late 70’s,  during a spell when Doi was a visitor in Cambridge, on the motion of polymer chains via a process known as reptation. The Doi-Edwards theory is still a key approach to understanding this field, although there have been some refinements to deal with additional detail.

The term reptation was actually introduced by (the late) Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, the Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1991. De Gennes and Sir Sam were good friends, if probably also friendly competitors, and de Gennes frequently passed through Cambridge, both before and after the award of the Nobel Prize.  It is not my intention here to give a thorough description of the science either of these gentlemen did – their works are amply accessible on the web.  What I want to do is talk about their characters as exactly that, gentlemen.  Both of them to my mind exactly illustrate what I understand by the word, and are just the kind of people I would have longed for as a mentor, if I hadn’t  had the luck actually to have them in that role. (As a personal aside, I should remark that when I heard de Gennes had won the Nobel Prize, I was so excited that whilst standing at the school gate waiting for my children, I said breathlessly to a fellow mum that I was over the moon because a friend of mine had just won a Nobel; she looked at me very strangely, and with hindsight it was a bit presumptuous of me to describe him as my friend, or to expect anyone else to care much.)

One of the key qualities I identify with both these individuals is the fact that they absolutely did not adhere to the advice Sam gave about dealing with civil servants. They both were just as delighted to talk to a graduate student as to a visiting dignitary. Sam by now is very frail (de Gennes died several years ago), but right up to the time he stopped coming regularly into the department he would attend all our seminars, and always invite the postgraduate students to stop by and discuss their research. The problem was much more that some were too nervous to do so, rather than that he put them off. He used to complain that people didn’t come and talk to him as much as he would like.

De Gennes had a very similar character, as far as I could judge from his various visits to Cambridge.  I had a number of opportunities to test this. On one occasion, when I barely knew him and was a very junior lecturer, I had been sent a paper of his to referee (this was back in the days when I worked on glassy polymers and the paper was a theoretical approach to the phenomenon of crazing, a mode of failure peculiar to glassy polymers and which I had extensively studied as a postdoc).  I didn’t agree with him, not least because I had unpublished experimental data to contradict his conclusions, but I had written my referee’s report before I knew he was visiting. So when he turned up in my office wanting to discuss his ideas I had to make a quick decision. Did I admit I had just written a critical referee’s report or simply stall, cover up and not have to defend my position in conversation when dealing with this heavyweight. I chose the former strategy and he was generous and delightful as we thrashed it out. In reality, the fact that I had experimental data I could share with him was a clincher, as I should have known it would be in advance.

De Gennes spent a large part of the period following the award of the Nobel Prize visiting schools in France. He was a passionate advocate for science, and used the additional clout the Nobel Prize afforded him to push his views on the importance of science on policy-makers within France. His influence was immense and his legacy lives on. He cared passionately about education, and also about the need for academic scientists to engage with industry.  Although that is not so unusual in the UK, or indeed the US, within France – with its (as far as I can judge) rather élitist academic attitude, it was not the norm. As Director of ESPCI – which as I have written about before does have a strong industrial tie-in – he was able to be a vocal proponent for this, but because of his status in France he was able to push this concept out much further into the community.

Both Sir Sam and de Gennes had charisma and charm, both were very approachable – and wanted to be seen as such – though both could equally be formidable if crossed or when trying to push an argument.  They were gentle with juniors, but ferocious when needed to be with more senior scientists, civil servants and the like. I always found both of them immensely encouraging as I moved into more interdisciplinary areas (such as starch and food physics more generally), areas which some members of my department had trouble getting their head around.  Sam’s phrase was ‘physics is what physicists do’ – in other words quit worrying and get on with it. They were not interested in setting out to prove they were better than those around them (though quite obviously as scientists they towered over most) or scoring points. They were not, if I can put it this way, interested in demonstrating they were alpha males, although quite clearly they were. An amazing pair to have known, and people whom it was impossible not to look up to.  As role models and mentors one could not look for better (and that they were male and I am not is, in my view, irrelevant).    They were truly inspirational and, in my book, true gentlemen.

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What Women Think – First thoughts on the Athena Survey of Science, Engineering and Technology 2010

Posted by Athene Donald on November 9, 2010

I have been glancing through the results from this year’s ASSET survey.  This is a web-based survey of academics at postdoctoral level and above, both men and women, asking them about their experiences and career progression. The results  make fascinating if rather depressing reading; depressing because all the way through – at this nationally aggregated level – we find there are still significant differences in the perceptions of men and women and almost invariably where this is the case it seems to be the women who feel disadvantaged or at the very least less optimistic. What follows is an entirely personal and somewhat preliminary take on the figures.  I have not attempted either to compare with earlier surveys (the Athena Forum produced a summary report on the two earlier surveys) or with the figures I have seen for my own university, so this is simply a first reaction to the bald percentages given. You should read the full report to get the actual numbers.  I believe there will be a more formal report released early in 2011 by the sponsors of the survey.

There were ~ 4500 respondents at the faculty level (of which just under one third were women) and another ~2500 at the postdoc level (of which 52% were women), so the numbers are large enough to believe that the differences reported really do reflect the current situation in universities. However, of course there will be differences between institutions and between disciplines and these totals mask all these subtleties. Universities will have access to their own figures broken down by department, so locally much more specific issues can be examined, although inevitably without the statistical certainties of large numbers.  I do hope institutions will carry out such local scrutiny, and readers may want to find out whether and where such scrutiny is going on: heads of participating departments should have received their own raw, disaggregated data some time ago.

If we start by considering issues relating to ‘progression and representation’, the first curiosity that stands out is that significantly more men than women seem to be aware of women in science initiatives in their own department, although more women believe they are personally benefitting from such initiatives. A second curiosity, given the general beliefs about ambition, is that amongst academic staff more women than men aspire to be a senior departmental or university manager. Perhaps the men want to stick closer to research, or that the women see this as the only route really to get recognition, but we can’t tell that from the questions posed.

However the bad news for women starts seriously with the questions around appointment and promotion. There are clearly far more women than men who appear to know little or nothing about promotion criteria and the process involved, particularly at the departmental level; women were also more likely to believe that women were actually disadvantaged ‘in respect of promotion and the provision of positive feedback’. Why should this be? Is it because men were significantly more likely to feel supported by their current line managers (in the case of postdocs) or senior colleagues (in the case of academic staff), according to the survey?  Male academic staff turn out to be also more likely to be appraised as a matter of course than women, which will also be relevant to promotion. This is a worrying indicator that things are not as equal as one would like to believe, even on such a process-driven aspect.  Male academic staff also believed their contributions were valued by their department more than women did for each heading in the survey: research, teaching, success in working life, external professional activities and administrative work, with the differences being most significant for research and external activities. This is of course only about perception, but it does imply that women feel undervalued, whether or not that is the message each department is in fact conveying or wanting to convey. For the postdocs, things looked much more even and female postdocs were actually more likely to believe that their successes in working life were valued than men.

Looking at factors contributing to career success, more women than men expressed the view that an absence of role models and an absence of mentoring had been detrimental to their career. These worries might have been anticipated, but it is useful to have the hard numbers backing up the anecdotal evidence. In terms of factors that had been beneficial there was almost universal agreement that hard work was a major factor in career success, but male academic staff were also more likely than women to identify luck as a contributing factor (there was no difference between the genders at the postdoc level) and they were also more likely to feel that their ability to attract PhD students had played a part. Do female academics attract fewer students? We can’t tell from this study, so it is not clear if men attributed success in part to this but the actual ability to attract students was or was not actually different.

And how did the men and women regard their working environment? It is disheartening to see that faculty women were significantly less likely to feel socially integrated (male and female postdocs were equally likely to feel OK about this), or that they had an opportunity to serve on important committees; and two thirds of the women felt the workload was unfairly allocated – as did more than half the men.  These last figures were almost exactly the same for the postdocs.

So, we still have a situation in academia where women feel disadvantaged and the suspicion must be that there is some basis for their belief, as manifest by the inequality in appraisal provision for instance. At the postdoc level the differences are less marked, and that must be a cause for hope.  Nevertheless, this large scale survey demonstrates a continuing imbalance both in the external atmosphere and the internal feelings around professional life in the SET subjects for men and women.  A comprehensive study such as this cannot simply be dismissed as soft, anecdotal moans by whingeing women; this is what it feels like for them at the coalface.

Posted in Equality, Research, Science Culture, Women in Science, Women's Issues | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Breakfast with Evelyn Fox Keller (Science and Gender Part II)

Posted by Athene Donald on October 31, 2010

The second half of the meeting in Austria on Science and Gender gave me a very different impression, both of the topic and the situation in Austria, than I had garnered from the first 24 hours described in my previous post.  Several points came out that were not initially evident, which could be summed up as

  • What is meant by science/ Wissenschaft?
  • What is meant by gender in this context?
  • What is the status quo for female academics in Austria, and what is the way ahead?

Clearly these are big, sweeping questions which I can only touch on here, and which it would be presumptuous of me to claim any sort of particular prescience about, but I will put down my impressions while they are fresh in my mind.

The first evening was taken up, as my previous post discussed, with a discussion specifically about women in science by two people from outside the Austrian system, indeed outside the Germanic tradition, namely Londa Shiebinger from Stanford and myself.  In retrospect it is interesting and significant that women from outside the Austrian (or even central European) umbrella were asked to speak and I will come back to this point.  The bulk of the second day was occupied with a selection of talks from within Austria covering psychology; the legal framework; neuroscience and biological differences; and stereotyping. All these talks were in German. I followed enough of the neuroscience talk to know that the lecturer was being very ambivalent about the biological differences obtained, verging on the ‘these are tasks women can’t do’, though stepping back from explicitly saying women’s brains made them unfit for science.  (To be fair to him, although his slides gave this impression, his answers in the ensuing discussion were much less disquieting.)  I cannot discuss the other talks because they were beyond me; various attendees have remarked how much they disliked the fact that non-German speakers were invited to present and then excluded from all the subsequent debates by virtue of language. Indeed I have been encouraged to write to the organisers spelling out the inappropriateness of this behaviour. I am not sure I am comfortable in doing this, as my inability to speak German adequately is my own failing and it smacks of cultural imperialism to object to a national society holding its meeting in its own tongue. Nevertheless, this is one manifestation of the anger felt by some attendees about the orchestration of this meeting.

The very last talk of the meeting, by Heidi Digglemann was given in English, in large part at her request so as to be able to be inclusive of Fox Keller and myself (Schiebinger had departed) as she gave an account of her personal life story and the crucial influences and staging posts in this.  Apparently this act of using English required what was described as a ‘palace revolution’ to allow this to be permitted. Very strange goings-on.

However, the evening debate on the second evening was in English involving Evelyn Fox Keller,   Christoph Kratky, since 2005 President of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, Hans Sünkel Rector of TU Graz, and Barbara Alving Director of the NIH’s National Center for Research and Resources.  Continuing with the linguistic theme, it was pointed out that although the English title for this meeting, and therefore the premise on which I for one constructed my own talk, was ‘Science and Gender’, in German the title was Wissenschaft und Gender. In this context, Wissenschaft should not be translated simply as Science, but much more broadly as Knowledge.  Now this has been drawn to my attention, I recollect a long discussion on this very point, coincidentally in In Defence of History coincidentally because this is the book I juxtaposed with Fox Keller’s Developmental Biology book a short while ago here . Indeed I now understand that the organising body, the Öesterreichische Forschungsgemeinschaft, is simply the Austrian Research Foundation and not itself tied to science. None of this was made plain to me in my letter of invitation, nor to the other external speakers I would surmise, based on the way they interpreted their brief.  It does explain why the audience contained philosophers, sociologists, economists etc.  I don’t think in some senses this disconnect mattered, and the material that was presented by the English speakers specifically around science seemed both well-received and to stimulate much debate, but nevertheless it was a disconnect – intended or otherwise.

So what did the Gender in the title mean?  I think many of us, myself included, had taken ‘gender’ to mean ‘women’, but of course that is formally quite incorrect, as the gender studies people pointed out. The evening debate was formally entitled ‘Will Science become Feminine?’ and was interpreted by the 4 speakers in rather different ways, in part because of different interpretations of ‘feminine’ and ‘gender’ in this context.  Fox Keller kicked things off by saying feminizing science should mean bringing more women in, not making it ‘touchy-feely’.  She pointed out that school education sometimes served the role of a technology ‘transforming boys and girls into “masculine” and “feminine”’.  And she particularly objected to remarks that had been made to her throughout her life along the lines of ‘you think like a man’, implying thought is gendered; telling women ‘how’ to think is, in her words, ‘offensive’.  Her desire was to

‘Free science from the shackles of gender.’

Next up was Dr Kratky who appeared to say essentially everything was fine, it was all a question of demographics and time since academic posts turned over slowly in the Austrian system and the number of women was creeping up so – nothing to worry about. Furthermore, he had heard various speakers say (and clearly I was included in this category) that some women lacked self-confidence, but he had seen no sign of it in the speakers so he wasn’t convinced that this was a problem. Indeed some men suffered from lack of self-confidence too. Yes, OK, I’ve said before I’m not usually taken as a shrinking violet, but his mode of expressing this was, to my mind, verging on the just plain rude.

Barbara Avling was by comparison very mild and factual, talking about steps the NIH had taken to support women, the need to take the long view and support people when they needed to step back for a period for personal reasons, and the importance of team science and training people to work (and lead) teams. She argued that the economics meant it was not sensible to invest substantially in training people and then not work to prevent attrition. Hans Sünkel was also rather mild, merely talking about the (rather minor) structures that TU Graz was introducing to try to increase the number of women full professors, and recognizing that numbers were slowly increasing, but that science was not necessarily seen as an attractive career choice – for men or women.

The chair, whose name I don’t recall but who was a woman from the Humanities, kept trying to bring the discussion back to ‘feminising’ science, but wasn’t making much headway with any of the panel. Fox Keller insisted that women will not change science, but that it will evolve, and that there isn’t simply a female way of doing things. The contributions from the floor all tended to go the same way, but also begin to hint at the feelings of frustration many of the women present felt. There was no doubt that many interpreted Kratky’s remarks – and recall that this is the guy at the top of the food chain controlling funding – as implying he believed that since there is no fundamental problem, nothing substantial needed to be done or would be done, and the message did not go down well.

Over the subsequent dinner I began to get a better appreciation of some of the underlying tensions, of which the argument over the language of the meeting was one.  The women I sat with clearly felt that Austria was intensely conservative, with hang-ups left over from Freud and the guilt implied if a mother did not devote herself to her children.  Furthermore, that the senior management of universities and funding agencies were doing no more than paying lip service to the problems many women felt they faced. I was told stories of university managers who would look the other way and do nothing when presented with explicit, written evidence of harassment of female staff; of a so-called law about gender equality that went no further than aspiration with no enforcement; of women who were not enabled/ actively hindered from getting full professorships but left in the limbo of lower level posts without clout. Of course these are things that the UK would have recognized ~20 years ago, but our community has moved whilst Austria  remains a rather hostile environment for women academics. Indeed one of the men I had spoken to earlier in the day said Austria was the most conservative of all the European countries on this front.

But let me return to Fox Keller, whom I had breakfast with on the last day. I had read her book ‘Reflections on Gender and Science’ several years ago, and had reacted very badly to it, interpreting it as hardcore Feminism with a capital F. I have read it again in the run-up to this meeting and wondered what it was that I disliked so much. Possibly it’s that my position has changed, but I actually think it is because I understand the book much better. Far from talking about a feminine way of doing science – which was how I interpreted it originally and which she indicated was a common misinterpretation – she wants a gender-free science. Although she believes she was the one who introduced the word gender into the context of science, it is exactly what she doesn’t want but fears is there. Unfortunately by introducing the word, she seems also to have introduced a hostage to fortune leading to many (my previous self included) to interpret her words as wanting there to be a female way of doing things.  She clearly believes the culture needs to change, to make it less what I would term macho (she called it masculine-esque) but absolutely not to go for simple PC-ness. Nor does she believe there is a female way of doing science, or that having more women will lead to a different type of science.  So, the example of Bernardine Healey cited by Barbara Avling, because she had overseen the introduction of an NIH policy requiring both men and women to be involved in clinical trials for conditions which might affect both, was seen by Fox Keller as an idea whose time had come rather than due to the explicit fact that Healy was a woman.

I have come away from this meeting rather perplexed. I came to give an overview of pragmatic actions I am associated with and familiar with from the UK. I am sure Londa Schiebinger likewise came simply to talk about her ongoing work. Instead I find we were pitched into a political arena where we were being used as external pawns, in the nicest possible way, in an ongoing situation – possibly akin to a war – between conservatives and more progressive academics. A situation where everything including our style, our language and our science was potentially ammunition for one side or the other; we had been given no hint of this backdrop when invited. I am perhaps wiser as a result, but not necessarily happier.

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Discussing Science and Gender

Posted by Athene Donald on October 29, 2010

I am currently at a meeting in a very attractive location (including snow) in Austria on Science and Gender, organised by the Österreichischen Forschungsgemeinschaft.  The meeting overall intends to discuss the topic in a very broad sense, with the participants coming from across the academic spectrum.  This obviously includes the full range of sciences as well as gender studies, but also less obvious disciplines including economics, languages and linguistics. I don’t think I had anticipated this when preparing my own talk.  Unfortunately my language skills are not advanced enough to appreciate some of the talks and topics – 40 year old O Level German just isn’t enough to appreciate the nuances of this field – but the first talk was rather easier: Londa Schiebinger from Stanford, giving an international perspective on the issues.  Her talk immediately preceded mine, and we covered some of the same topics, though with a rather different emphasis.

Londa’s background is in English and History, but for many years she has looked at both the historical and the current situation of women in science. Her talk identified three levels of analysis:

1.       Participation: ‘fix the (number of) women’;

2.       Gender in the Culture: ‘fix the institution’;

3.       Gender in Knowledge: ‘fix the knowledge’.

She discussed point 1 by discussing what happens when you, for instance, teach women how to negotiate for better salaries – a particular issue in the US where it seems all salaries are done by negotiation. When such training was carried out at her own institution, it transpired the administrators with whom the negotiations were done simply didn’t respond to the women in the same way as they would to men coming into their offices asking for a pay rise. Consequently the effect was less than had been hoped, and probably just added to a sense of alienation for the women faculty concerned.  My own thoughts on ‘fixing the women’ were discussed here.  The implied deficit model assumes it is the woman who are lacking something, rather than that it is the culture that is at fault. In the case of the salary negotiations, therefore, giving the women the confidence and skills to negotiate failed because the culture – in this case within the management – was not adapted to deal with this change.

Her discussion of ‘fixing the institution’ was where there was the greatest overlap with my own talk, and I’ll discuss this further below. But it was the third topic I found most interesting, because I was least familiar with it. Her point here was that much of knowledge –most, though not all of her examples derived from the field of biomedical research – is done in a gendered way, producing results which may not be equally applicable to both sexes. (Perhaps I should try to spell out the differences between sex and gender as I understood it from the discussion: sex is about biology, whereas gender relates to sociocultural attributes.)

To take a specific example, in fact from engineering practice, that of crash dummies i.e. those objects used to test the consequences of crash impacts on the body. The first such dummies used were in studies in the US (ca 1949) by the military to study the effect of ejection from ejector seats from planes on the human body. The model built was that of a rather tall male.  These studies were subsequently adapted to study the optimisation of seat belts in high speed car crashes. There have been modifications to the dummies, but it is only very recently that Volvo, if I recall correctly (in other words, in Scandinavia, which I think is telling in itself) have started to study the effect of seatbelt design on pregnant women, using computer simulations.  This despite the fact that foetuses are known to be damaged by the pressure induced by the standard 3 point seatbelt.  This is a clear example of a case where the standard ‘male’ model is assumed to cover all situations (although I presume there have been separate studies on children of different ages and sizes; this wasn’t mentioned), and that simply isn’t adequate.  Despite the obvious shortcomings, US law isn’t requiring any changes until 2011 to ensure the safety of pregnant women is factored in to safety design.  Another obvious example, that is probably more familiar to readers, is the case of symptoms associated with incipient heart attacks in men and women. These present differently. Since doctors are not always trained to recognize these differences, and alert to the variety in symptoms and the location of where pain is felt, many people are not given the appropriate treatment in time.  Response to drugs may also be different, which has significant implications for drug trial design.  All these sorts of effects Londa referred to as requiring ‘gendered innovation’ and this has become a major theme of her team at Stanford,

For my own talk I was originally given a title of  ‘Science and Gender in Academia – a Reflection of Society’, but I felt completely ill-qualified to discuss this and chose to concentrate not on the social or sociological but on the practical and pragmatic steps I am familiar with both locally, through WiSETI, and nationally through the Athena Forum.  However I began with setting this work in the context of the so-called leaky pipeline, and this was where there was most overlap with Londa’s talk.  Issues such as unconscious bias and stereotyping – as manifest in how people (male and female) evaluate CV’s, write reference letters, or judge people at interview –  are so prevalent within our culture we are going to have to work incredibly hard to overcome this. I said that I would like to see senior managers to take some of Project Implicit’s tests – I have mentioned this Project before here – so that they are at least aware of the baggage they, and all of us, carry into the selection of candidates for instance.  We also need to consider the obstacles female scientists may face due to their low numbers, such as isolation, lack of mentors and lack of role models.  However, rather than rehearse the whole of my talk I attach as a separate page a first draft of the paper that will be submitted to the proceedings of this meeting (and the accompanying powerpoint presentation).  This manuscript will be updated in the light of the discussions over the next 24 hours, so should not be considered as the finished article.

I am particularly looking forward to the panel discussion tonight, which will feature Evelyn Fox Keller in (I presume) her role as author of Reflections on Gender and Science, rather than as the mathematical biologist and author of Making Sense of Life I discussed in my last post.  The Discussion is entitled ‘Will Science become Feminine?’. Should be interesting!

Posted in Equality, Science Culture, Uncategorized, Women in Science | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »