00:03: David Payne
Hello, I’m David Payne, careers editor at Nature. And this is Working Scientist, a Nature Careers podcast.
In this seven part series, Science Diversified, we’re exploring how the scientific enterprise truly benefits when you have a team of researchers from a broad range of backgrounds, disciplines and skill sets.
Each episode ends with a 10-minute sponsored slot from the International Science council about its work on diversity.
In this third episode, we’re in search of allies to support people from under-represented groups.
In this case, we meet two men who noticed how women were treated differently in the workplace, and did something concrete about it.
00:46: Paul Walton
So my name is Paul Walton. I’m a bioinorganic chemist at the University of York, where I’m a professor. Throughout my gender equality work, I come across two things that really have stood out.
One is the use of data. You can look at, say the percentage of female faculty in our universities globally, and see, whilst there’s been progress, there’s undoubtedly been progress, in many countries in the world, there’s simply not at parity.
And there’s some puzzles in there, right? You know, for instance, if you look at some countries where you may expect gender equality to have a hard time, (Saudi Arabia), then you see that percentage of female faculty in universities is pretty good.
And it’s better than some countries where you expect gender equality perhaps to be better, even in places where there have been gender equity policies for decades. In Scandinavia, for instance, women are still under-represented in the senior positions.
The second thing is unconscious bias. The best examples are those when you talk about meeting dynamics and the way that people behave and speak in meetings, and that’s often where decisions are made.
Women are talked over and often ignored, because people carry with them inside some notion of the value of men and women’s contributions to discussion.
Moreover, that a woman will have an idea, put it forward, it will be ignored. And then five or 10 minutes later, a man will have the same idea and pitch it forward and get the credit for it.
And every time I speak about unconscious bias and give those examples, say, the meeting example, pretty much all the women in the audience will nod.
It doesn’t matter which country I’m in, where I’m speaking, which subject. Pretty much all the men in the audience will think probably, no reaction.
Whilst I can only speak anecdotally, that awareness raising has for us being powerful and has changed meeting behaviours, and has improved decision making to a large extent.
So one thing we did, also, was to bring in observers to interview panels. Actually also, shortlisting panels. The job of these people was to watch out for any instances of unconscious bias during the decision making process.
And this is something that we do routinely now for appointments. And I would say, certainly the ones I’ve been involved with, I would say, on every occasion, we find that male candidates are spoken about 50% more of the time than female candidates.
And that female candidates receive roughly twice as many negative comments as male candidates.
And I have some anecdotes here, one of which is that I saw two candidates chat, discussed by my colleagues, which were roughly the same merit. And the male candidate attracted no negative comments, but the female candidate at the end attracted all sorts of negative comments.
But it took the act of observation to pick that up. And then to be reflected back to the panel, that there was there was an issue.
And it’s powerful. You see it making a difference and I can think of several anecdotes. One of which is that we were shortlisting for a faculty member once and actually I was the observer. And I noticed that all of the female candidates did not have what I called sponsorship, whereas many of the male candidates would have sponsorship. What is sponsorship? Sponsorship is where we would say be talking about a particular resume, and one of my colleagues would say something like, “well, I’ve had a phone call about this candidate from his ex supervisor, his ex-postdoc advisor and this is a really good guy.” And men would receive those informal sponsorships and women wouldn’t.
And it was interesting, what was interesting is that when I pointed this out to my colleagues, through the observation, they were aghast that they’d even done this.
But of course, it’s all part of the great network of unconscious bias. One, they may not be aware of their own biases and two, that the sponsorship in itself had come out of some notion of bias and how men are viewed and how women are viewed.
And that didn’t lead to a correction of, of the, of the people that would shortlist and the people that we would interview.
05:49 Sean Hendy
Yes, I’m Professor Sean Hendy from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. I first got interested in gender equality, really, by just watching what was happening to some of my women colleagues and friends. My opportunity to do something about it came later in my career, as I moved into leadership positions.
When I when I was a junior scientist, I don’t think I really felt like I had the ability to make much change, other than just trying to be a good colleague.
So one of the things that, you know, I feel quite strongly, about is setting yourself targets, and then taking steps to achieve those targets.
Then there are other the other sort of things that you can do, you know, once you climb up the, you know, the ranks of seniority.
So, I took the the “no manel pledge” about five years ago. I said that I wasn’t going to appear on, panels that were all men, and then I wasn’t going to appear in conference sessions that that that were all mail. You know, at first you think, you know, I’m going to look like an idiot, and I’m going to be making lots of trouble for lots of people, actually, my experience was completely different.
Usually, when I, when I pointed this out to people organizing panels, or conference organizers, they were so thankful that I pointed it out, right, because that’s just something that had slipped by them.
And they realized that it was not the right thing to do. And so by actually, me raising it, it wasn’t, it wasn’t seen as a negative thing or, or a difficult thing, it was actually seen as a helpful thing.
You know, and it is easy to just sort of, you know, when you’re busy, and you’ve got to put together a list of speakers, to just not do the gender check.
You know, I mean, it happens to us all. Right, we’re in a rush, you’ve got to get a list of names. And so but but one thing I’ve learned to do is to always run the gender lens, over any list of names I’m looking at, any list of colleagues that I’m collaborating with now.
We’re trapped in our own social networks, right. And those social networks are often shaped by our gender and our socialization habits.
And so, you know, once you start sort of examining your own networks, and the people that you’re working with, and your sort of “go-to” people, you’ll start to see some biases on them. And actually, you know, you can correct it.
And over time, you’ll actually build up a fantastic network of people that you can go to, that there’s much more broad and diverse than it would otherwise be if you were simply relying on the old boys’ club.
08:27 Paul Walton
But a question I get asked a lot is why as a man, are you involved in gender equality? You know, why it’s, it’s a bit of a puzzle.
And I would say there’s a different perspective on gender inequality, which is, goes as follows, is that is not so much a female deficit problem, but it’s a male advantage problem.
And what do I mean by that? I mean, that, whether I like it or not as a white, middle aged man, I’ve enjoyed all the advantages that the scientific world can offer me, to the point where it’s the analogy I draw, it’s a bit like being in a cycle race, I’ve been given secretly some performance enhancing drugs and that, as we all set off on the race of this great competition in science, it’s perhaps no surprise that occasionally I’ll win a cycling stage, or put it scientifically win a prize or get a grant or get a paper published.
And from my perspective, then, as a guy who’s enjoyed all the advantages, I can’t then separate myself from the thought that that victory or that achievement is tainted It’s tainted in some way because it’s been gained unfairly. And that through that lens, I find myself wanting to speak out about gender equality, not only to raise awareness of the problem, but also to do my best to offset the advantages that I personally have had as a scientist.
09:56 Sean Hendy
Often the burden is placed on them, women, to drive change. Again that’s not fair. That’s holding them back from doing their science. I think the burden of making change has to be shared equally otherwise, it’s simply going to perpetuate the same sort of inequity that we’ve had for so long, right?
Where you can, as a male, you can sort of focus on your work, you’ve maybe not got the same sort of expectations from your family, from society about the other roles that you might play, you know, crank out the publications, get the grants, and success will breed success.
And, and of course, that leaves people who are trying to make change, less able to get grants, less able to further their own careers.
And that kind of perpetuates the problem. So I think it is about sharing that burden equally. A lot of extremely capable women scientists who don’t need the help of men. But actually, it’s about sharing that burden equally, so that actually they can they can reach their potential.
Paul Walton: 11:01
You know, whether we like it or not, it’s, it is an unfair world of which actually, I’m on the side of advantage rather than disadvantage.
And I’d hope that message would perhaps get out a little bit more, to engage a few more men in the whole business of gender equality, that, you know, we do have advantages, whether we like it or not, and that we benefit from those advantages.
And that, if we could recognize and understand that, then perhaps it will motivate more people to get involved, to make their own achievements be worthy.
Sean Hendy: 11:43
Science is a wonderful career. We all go out around telling people science is a wonderful career.
And it’s not fair to be going around, telling people, you know, about the wonders of science, and not allowing them to share it not allowing certain types of people to share in that.
So there’s just a basic equity issue there that I think is quite important.
But genuinely, it does make for better science, you know, particularly with the types of problems that we’re grappling with today.
These are problems that that, you know, no single individual can own, and no single individual perspective can solve.
So we simply need that diversity in our scientific teams and that diversity of perspective, and lived experience.
And so, you know, your agenda does have an influence on your, on your lived experience.
And so that’s, that’s really important when we’re trying to solve complex problems, like climate change, grappling with with the COVID pandemic, as we are at the moment, we need diverse perspectives.
It’s not always so obvious. I’m a theoretical physicist, you sort of sit back and ponder, well, how would what I’d be doing be different If I was a woman, and some areas of science, it’s not super obvious how how diversity changes things.
And these are often the most resistant areas of science to change, right? And we just don’t know. Once we bring diverse teams to bear, we can certainly take science in different directions.
And increasingly, science is multidisciplinary, right? It’s no longer simply based on a disciplinary basis, where one person can sort of master all of the knowledge.
We’re having to build teams, we’re having to build on that diversity. And if we can’t build teams from a diverse set of perspectives, then you’re not going to be doing good science these days. And that includes building diverse teams.
David Payne 13:35
Now, that’s all for this section of our Working Scientist podcast. We now have a slot sponsored by the International Science Council, which looks at why diversity is so critical to advancing science, and the steps we can take to improve it. I’m David Payne, careers editor at Nature. Thanks for listening.
Ineke Sluiter 13:55
I see the talents, the upcoming young people, the ideas, the creativity, the way they bubble with energy. And it is very frustrating to me if I see that energy quenched.
Mary Robinson: 14:07
Initially, they needed to be kind of encouraged that their voice mattered. But once they were affirmed in that way, they were so eloquent and they spoke from life’s experience. They were delighted and empowered, you could see it.
Marnie Chesterton: 14:27
Welcome to this podcast series from the International Science Council, where we’re exploring diversity in science.
I’m Marnie Chesterton, and in this episode we’re looking at the role of allies in the workplace and spaces of power. How can being an ally help to make science more inclusive to diverse perspectives? And what practical steps can we all take to support that?
Ineke Sluiter 14:54
If you ignore diversity and inclusion, it simply means you’re going to miss talent. You’re going to miss out on gifted people, and we simply can’t afford that. I’s a waste. That’s a loss for academies as a whole.
Marnie Chesterton 15:07
This is Ineke Sluiter, professor of ancient Greek at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the ISC’s member organizations.
It was established at the start of the 19th century as an academy for all disciplines, the humanities, as well as the natural, social and medical sciences.
The academy’s members are elected from Dutch universities, and like many science organizations, the profile of their members hasn’t always been very diverse.
Ineke Sluiter: 15:39
So in 2011, about 16% of the academy’s membership were female. So that’s a really low number.
And it has steadily risen, through 19% in 2014. And currently, after several measures were taken in 2020 it was at 31%, which we’re actually pretty proud of. Because I have to say that, in fairness, that initial poor representation was a reflection of the poor representation in Dutch academia in general.
And one important aspect of this issue for the academy was the leaky pipeline in Dutch academia at large, where among students women are even a little over represented. Then among PhD students, it’s almost equal. And then that every further progressive step of the academic career, we tend to lose women.
Marnie Chesterton: 16:35
Through its work on increasing gender equality in science, the ISC has been looking at how to move from awareness to transformation, because although we’ve been talking about better representation of women in science for a long time, that isn’t always reflected in the figures.
According to the Gender Gap in Science project, funded by the ISC, women’s experiences in both educational and employment settings are consistently less positive than men’s.
More than a quarter of women’s responses across the sciences reported experiencing sexual harassment at university or at work. Women were 14 times more likely than men to report being personally harassed, and consistently reported less positive relationships with their doctoral advisors.
So given we’re aware of the issue, how can we transform the situation? This is a question Ineke has also struggled with.
Ineke Sluiter: 17:29
So then the question is, what could we do? We could either choose to reconcile ourselves to following this trend of very slow growth of the percentage of female academics, or show leadership from the top because that does make a difference.
I think it actually always comes down to the same couple of points. Awareness, visibility, and the courage to intervene
Marnie Chesterton: 17:54
And intervene they did. In 2017, 100 years after Johanna Westerdijk was appointed as the first female full professor in the Netherlands, the academy marked the centenary with a special call for nominations of women members.
Ineke Sluiter: 18:10
And the miraculous thing was sometimes the academy elect people that have been nominated more than once.
But this whole group of candidates we had never seen before. And the quality of the nominations was outstanding.
So think about visibility. Apparently, because we had invited nominators, presidents of universities, to send us the names of their best women, they now saw them with new eyes. They discovered them as they were, they were there all along with their great work. They discovered the talents in their own organizations, it was actually fabulous.
And as a result, not just of that measure, we now have over 30% female members in our fellowship, and so we’re ahead of the curve. That’s better than the average at the Dutch universities. It’s actually at the high end of what any university has. And I think that’s leading from the top, it’s proven a very effective measure. It works. Quality as high as effort. And for the fellowship as a whole it’s definitely an improvement.
Marnie Chesterton: 19:15
So does Inneke have any advice for others who are looking to start their own journey for change?
Ineke Sluiter: 19:20
First of all, it helps to find allies to form networks. Women can also really help each other there.
But this was actually a question that could be raised by men and women. Men are often very aware that something is going wrong. And the question is, what can you do? There’s a couple of steps.
The first is be aware of these issues of unconscious bias.
So raise awareness, be aware yourself.
Second point. We would always recommend to find expert advice. There are people whose job it is to study these things and who know about this.
Ask them to analyze the processes in your organization, or your department, or your team. The facts, the figures, so that you can work based on correct information. Then formulate concrete goals and actions.
And finally, make sure you monitor the results so that you can see what works and what doesn’t.
And maybe the most important thing is keep hope because we will be getting there.
Marnie Chesterton: 20:20
Having allies at all levels, from the grassroots to the leadership, is crucial for transformative action.
Someone else who can testify to this is Mary Robinson, the first woman president of Ireland, and a patron of the International Science Council.
During her first UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, COP 15, she noticed a real lack of representation from women,
Mary Robinson: 20:44
It was very male, it was very technical, and it did not incorporate a gender perspective.
The delegates tended to be professionals talking about clauses and paragraphs and fighting their corner on every word.
But they weren’t sensitive to gender, sensitive to what it’s like at grassroots level when such unpredictable weather patterns devastate your harvest, and you can’t put food on the table and you have to go further for water.
Marnie Chesterton: 21:13
Mary began attending the COP meetings on climate change, just as several other women were coming to the fore in climate negotiations. And having like minded allies in those seats of power was really important.
Mary Robinson: 21:25
We decided that we would form a network of women on gender and climate that would include women ministers and heads of agencies.
And we called it the Troika+ of women leaders on gender and climate. We plotted to address a decision on gender parity, which was going to be 10 years old by the next conference.
It was very good for the wider gender constituency, which had been working very hard, but not to great effect, on gender.
And it was strengthened by this network of women ministers helping, and we then got the Gender Action Plan. And we’ve now got the extension of the Gender Action Plan, and gender is much more visible, though still not taken seriously enough, because we’re still not seeing, you know, a full 50/50 balance parity in delegations and in committees. And we’re still not seeing the gender responsiveness that would help in a climate context. So there’s still work to do. But we’ve come quite a long way.
Marnie Chesterton: 22:30
Part of this progress has been through the network mentoring and promoting the voices of women, especially the most marginalized groups.
Mary Robinson 22:37
In the COPs before Paris, we realized the importance of getting different voices, diversity into the discussion, by the women leaders who were ministers having in their delegations, grassroots women, indigenous women, young women.
And their voices as full delegates at the table, and therefore able to be on panels with the delegates listening in, to speak from the floor, with the delegates listening, were really powerful.
Marnie Chesterton: 23:06
As well as curbing dangerous climate change. The UN Sustainable Development Goals include ending hunger and poverty, and improving sanitation and education around the world. Gender equality, which is itself, one of the 16 goals, is vital to achieving the rest.
Mary Robinson: 23:23
In my podcast, we have a byline, which is intentionally quite provocative, where we say that climate change is a man-made problem that requires a feminist solution.
And of course, I always explain that man made us generic includes all of us, and that a feminist solution hopefully includes as many men as possible. And that is where we really see gender being properly not seen as a women’s issue, but seen as an issue of importance to all genders.
And, to me, you know, a diverse and inclusive scientific workforce draws from the widest range of backgrounds, of perspectives, of experiences, so that it will maximize creativity and innovation in science.
Marnie Chesterton: 24:07
Being an ally means recognizing that addressing diversity and inclusion is a task for us all. It’s not just an issue for people who are less represented, whether that’s in science workplaces, academies, or in science policy discussions.
By thinking about what each of us can do, we can all be better allies, and that helps science itself to move forward.
That’s it for this episode on diversity in science from the International Science Council.
The ISC is working with partners to support two studies on the inclusion and participation of women in science, the Gender Insight Survey and the Gender Gap In Science project.
You can find more info about both of these online at council dot science.
Next week we’ll be speaking to two early career scientists about the importance of making scientific workplaces safe and welcoming for all researchers.
And we’ll be looking at practical steps that organizations such as the ISC can take to support inclusion and freedom of expression for LGBTQIA+ and other minority groups within science.
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- Finding my online voice – Science
- 6 tips to help you detect fake science news – The Washington Post
- Quest to land humans on Mars heats up and 5 other top space and science stories this week – CNN
- A new book explores how military funding shaped the science of oceanography – Science News Magazine
- A new guide for communicating plant science – EurekAlert
- Can science help people make decisions? – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
- Dublin school opens much-anticipated new science, engineering building – The Mercury News
- Wearable sensors that detect gas leaks – EurekAlert
- New York state ends stem cell research funding – Science Magazine