Men have careers, women have jobs

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Men have careers while women have jobs. That explains why only 18 % of the european professors are women. History and an unconscious bias is to blame for the inequality, that only positive discrimination and open gender politics can bring to an end.

We are all guilty of it to some extent. The unconscious bias. It is alive and kicking when we associate family primarily with women and careers with men. Maybe we don’t think that, but deep down years of cultural and social influence has nurtured a gender picture that women for ages have been trying to get rid of.

The picture is clear when we look at women in academic careers. Less than 20 % of all professors are women. That’s despite the fact that more women than men enter university. Somewhere along the way, women either lose interest in an academic career or they encounter barriers which make it harder for them to succeed in a male dominated world.

Needed: a diverse talent mass

With less women in research, we’re missing out on important potential.

»In academic research we are creating new knowledge, new ideas, we are creating innovation. Different types of people give different types of ideas and solutions. Which is why diversity is the heart of science, engineering and technology. Promoting diversity in the workforce provides greater access to talent by increasing the pool of qualified and skilled professionals,« says Caroline Roughneen, director of the Centre for Women in Science & Engineering Research at Trinity College Dublin.

That’s why it is important to have both sexes represented in research. Studies have shown that all male groups and all female groups don’t come up with as great ideas as a group of mixed male and female. The diversity ensures rich ideas.

In Denmark, an analysis of the Danish research communities concluded that communities that were particularly dynamic had more women and younger researchers than the overall average for research institutions.

Accumulation of disadvantage

There are many reasons why fewer women make it in an academic career.

»It is an accumulation of disadvantage,« says Caroline Roughneen.

Both men and women have the cultural expectation that men and careers match whereas women and family match. For that reason there will often be an unconscious bias to favor men leaders and women as subordinates.

Facts are that fewer women seek promotions, they apply for less money in grants and they generally publish less than men. Especially the latter two factors are taken into account when universities or other institutions promote researchers. And women then often fall short compared to men, even though they actually publish i higher quality journals. This is further complicated by the fact that time spend on maternity leave is not taken into account as a reason for the reduced productivity.

That said, men taking maternity leave experiences the same unconscious bias as women. It can be difficult for a man to take part-time or reduced leave as this is not seen as the norm for a man. 

Lack of female role models

But as long as women are underrepresented in academic careers, it is continously going to be difficult to make that career an attractive choice for women.

»For women who start in science or engineering, there is a lack of female role models. Only few women make it to the next levels. They don’t see a future in research,« explains Caroline Roughneen. This is durectly shown in the statistics: in science and engineering only 11 % of professors are women.

Equality is not treating women as men

The question is what we need to do to make sure that women and men are treated equally in the academic environment, because equality is not the same as treating women as men. Even though many approaches for creating equality tries to do exactly that by tailoring women to fit into a male world. But gender differences should not lead to unequal status or treatment.

»Ultimately equality is accepting that men and women are different and that they bring different things to the table. Those differences needs to be valued,« says Caroline Roughneen.

Creating an equal starting point

One of the ways to do this is through positive actions and positive discrimination. According to Caroline Roughneen this means creating a more equal starting point for men and women.

In Finland this has been done through the Finnish Academy’s equality plan. According to plan, the minority gender should occupy at least 40% of all research posts, experts’ positions and working group appointments. Where applicants are equally competent and qualified for the post, preferences must be given to the minority gender.

This means that working conditions as well must suit both men and women and allow both women and men to reconcile work with family life.

When it comes to science and engineering another aspect is also important to even create the possibility of equality. Only 30 % of all students in these areas are women. So first of all attracting more women to these typical male areas are crucial if a future equal distribution of gender is to be a realistic goal. For other scientific areas, the effort is to be focused on retaining women in the system and have them choose a career in academia.

None of this is going to happen overnight. »It is a very long proces. I doubt that we’ll get there in my lifetime, unless we start using radical measures like quotas,« says Caroline Roughneen.