As a means of promoting women’s involvement in STEM subjects, there exists a ‘Women In Science’ society at my university. It is a society which up till a few weeks ago I had never heard of before, but one which seems almost intuitive for me to join, being a young woman in science. There are so many different views floating about this issue, and in no way am I claiming to be an expert on the topic and be free to think of my participation what you will, but I am glad that I went to their first meeting of the year.
The day was an info-packed medley of speeches, a Q+A panel, breakout sessions (and amongst all, plenty of obligatory pastries and coffee, of course!) which involved the likes of Claire Haworth (Behavioural Genetics, dept. of Psychology), Judith Klein (Systems Biology, Warwick Medical School), Carolyn Parkinson (WMG, IIPSI) and Dr. Elizabeth Stanway (Astronomy & Astrophysics group, dept. of Physics). All four ladies had something different to offer to the audience: there was talk of how to make it happen and get ahead in the game; the pros and cons of being an interdisciplinary person; balancing a career and motherhood; or generally how does it feel to be the only female academic in your department.
What some people have already pointed out to me is the fact that a lot of what was said in terms of career tips and advice could be equally relevant to both males and females; this leading to the point of view that gender should not determine what “advice” you are given in order to excel. This, by all means, I do agree with. But evidence does suggest that women do get treated differently in the workplace (especially in male-dominated fields) and, having heard anecdotes of ladies being paid a lesser salary for the same job, there is an evident need for action against discrimination. So doing something active against this state of affairs is the only way to make changes, no?
But there is no use in sitting there and complaining about the minimal proportion of females receiving fellowships and grants and jobs in comparison to males, when only a few women apply in the first place. As a small example mentioned by Dr Elizabeth Swan, at American Astronomical Society meetings, the amount of post-talk questions asked by women was significantly less than those asked by men, despite a generally equal ratio of attendees. Here is a very interesting read from ‘If We Assume’, where this data originates.
Why does this happen? Why do so few women ask questions at conferences, apply for fellowships and funding or apply for higher roles in the workplace? If we want these ratios to be equally split, then we must encourage more females to take their careers into their own hands. But again, I won’t try and speak like the expert I’m not.
I just think it’s more of an issue of women lacking confidence; the so-called ‘Impostor Phenomenon’ – a psychological issue mentioned yesterday at the WIS meeting. Again, I am by no mean an expert, but I can easily talk of that feeling of being somewhere for the wrong reasons. Like everyone’s idea of how confident or smart you are is magnified ten-fold and sooner or later, someone will find out that really, you are not as intelligent as they all think you are. That irrational, constant fear of being found out. (As an aside, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is a must-see.) And then downplaying your achievements; like the only reason you ‘got the job’ is because you’re a woman. I’d like to think that most of the time this isn’t the case, but we do not live in an ideal society and sadly, sometimes you will only get the job because they need a female to do it. But so what? You got it; now get on with it and don’t look back, letting that impostor voice be the barrier against success. The only thing is to make sure that your CV demonstrates your capabilities and presents you for the woman that you are. This is the message of confidence with which I left the #WISADayWith 2014 meeting, and it is a fantastic message to start the new academic year with.