I’m usually the last one to blame motherhood for anything, but there’s a compelling argument in a science journal this week that points the finger at motherhood for the dearth of female scientists, specifically when we decide to become mothers.
The New Scientist magazine published an opinion piece by two British female scientists Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli that looks at “The high cost of being a woman in science” and details the top reasons why there are so few women and “what can we do to stop the loss of women from science?”
Alas, you working moms aren’t going to like what they deem the top reason:
The authors specifically look at the requirements of becoming a scientist and point to how “early postdoc years demand high flexibility, hopping between short term contracts to benefit from the international and intellectual experiences and acquire the skills needed to secure those much sought after permanent jobs.”
That means aspiring scientists are doing much of this work in their twenties and many women, they write, are loathe to delay giving birth into their thirties because it can mean “giving it up forever.” (Note: I waited until my thirties and it all worked out OK.)
Another point, which I have written about before, is the supportive spouse advantage.
The authors point to a “Mothers In Science” publication put out by the Royal Society in England that included profiles of successful women scientists. The pamphlet includes endless stories of women with hubbies who have supported them throughout their careers. About 80 percent of the 64 women they profiled, the authors write, had spouses who were also academics.
Hubby support also shows up in other professions, such as medicine and journalism:
From a past CareerDiva post:
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times – if it weren’t for my husband my career would never have made it to the level it is now. When I was writing my book there were many nights when I was trapped in my office hearing my husband prepare dinner, do homework with the kids and then start the laundry. One study asked women in medicine how they were able to balance medicine, motherhood and madness. Who better to ask about dealing with a hectic career and motherhood than women physicians. Well, one of their big tips: pick your partner well.
Clearly, there are reasons beyond motherhood and bad significant other, including gender bias. One report titled “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” put out by American Association of University Women found that women do face roadblocks they can’t always control, including “stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities – that continue to block women’s participation and progress in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
What ever the reasons, the problem is real and growing in the United States. The AAUW report found that:
Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to major in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Women’s representation in science and engineering declines further at the graduate level and yet again in the transition to the workplace.
We may not always have control over discrimination in this society, but we can make different decisions when it comes to who we marry and when we have children, and not be dictated to by society yet again. What’s your take?