by Erica Chang
Physicist, chemist, biologist—if you picture a man when you think about these jobs, you may be gender bias, but you are also most likely correct. Despite the many years and efforts given to reducing the gender gap and supporting women rights, the gender gap in the sciences still exits. There are less women studying science, there are less women on science advisory boards, and there are less research grants given to women. While some intellectuals have claimed that this gender gap in sciences can be attributed to a lower aptitude for sciences in women, women’s test scores and performances often outrank men, disproving that theory, which leaves many of us wondering, what is the cause?
Nurturing the Stereotype
What many people don’t like to accept is that we start building this gender gap in children’s early and secondary education. Children are surrounded with a culture in which science is dominated by males. Even in their own schools, most science and math teachers are males. Presented with this image, many girls are less likely to consider these subjects as their strong points or consider these careers as opportunities.
The gender bias isn’t just taught through example; many teachers actually reinforce the gender bias through their actions. Many females pursuing a career in science have run into this unconscious bias. Men are noticed more in the classroom, their interests receive more support, and their accomplishments more recognition. Professors and teachers, men and women alike, are subconsciously influenced by our culture, and are inadvertently furthering the gender gap.
A Difference In Family Life
In contrast to the claims that women are less capable in the science world, studies have shown that relative to the number of women in science, the number of women who complete their doctorate is about equivalent to men. However, it seems that women are far more likely to drop out of the long road to research positions and a tenured professor position. Of course, this process may span the length of a person’s 20s and 30s, a time when many women are also bearing and raising children. When it is most important for research goals to be met to secure tenure, family responsibility is also becoming a heavy burden. Often, women drop out of perusing high level science careers in order to tend to their family responsibilities.
This is not to say that men do not also have families to be concerned about, but according to studies, men who stay in the science field have more children while women who remain in the science field have fewer kids then men and fewer kids then they would really like. The problem still remains that women have are forced to make a sacrifice. Either they have the family they want and they give up their career, or they have the career they want and they give up some of their family wishes.
Less Leadership Positions
Beyond education, when it comes to the leaders and decision makers in the science world, they are predominately male. Of course, the limited amount of women in science and a greater rate of women leveling the field do affect this rate. However, when it comes to the science advisory board, the percentage of women on the boards as reached a dismal high of 10.2%. Women also report being invited to be on these boards far less often than their male counterparts. With so few women in leadership positions, the male-dominated atmosphere of the science world remains strong.
What can be done?
Those who are concerned about this gender gap are working hard to provide solutions to allow women to have equal access to the sciences. Some companies have enforced quotas which require a certain percentage of employees and those on the boards to be women. However, those solutions have not been very effective. Even with more women in leadership positions, women scientists have not been receiving more grant, and with the small pool of women scientists, the demand for them to take leadership positions can place more stress on their family life.
Despite the ineffectiveness of quotas, some companies have found solutions that do actually benefit women. These include reforms for more flexible work schedules and more child care facilities. These reforms allow women to remain in the science field even while starting and raising a family, evening out that playing field with men in that regards. Companies have also been trying to fight the subconscious gender bias by instituting unbiased hiring procedures. These reforms are making true headway into opening the science field for women participation.
A Slow and Gradual Change
Even with all the reforms, the gender gap in sciences will only lessen through persistent effort and time. As companies provide better services to women, more women will be successful in the science world, providing good role models for our children. In the meantime, our culture has to come to accept women in science and begin encouraging girls from a young age to pursue any field, including the sciences. As we work to change our infrastructures, we must also change our attitudes. As we begin to see women as capable potential scientists, more women will become them, and that gender gap will be a thing of the past.
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