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Outline Challenges for Women to Be Successful as Scientists and Evaluate Ways of Confronting Them

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Outline challenges for Women to be Successful as Scientists and evaluate ways of Confronting Them


There have been steady gains made by female scientists in the most recent decades. In the current world today, over half of the life sciences PhDs are awarded to women compared to the 13% that women had in 1970. Nonetheless, compared to men, women still lag behind in terms of tenure track positions and full professorship in the math-intensive fields and sciences due to the persistent career challenges they face (Shen 2013).  The perception is that women are less successful than men in the fields of academic science (Henley 2015). In the social and natural academic sciences, women continue facing barriers towards obtaining academic positions and securing promotions. This is mainly because of the subconscious biases and gendered processes within the institutions like limited mentorship for women in science, bias in evaluations of success in academia, lack of institutional support for mothers, and limited networking opportunities (Henley 2015). The disparity has been attributed to discrimination against women in the processes of grant review, publication, hiring, and interviewing (Ceci and Williams 2010). Shen (2013) found that US colleges and universities tend to employ far more male scientists compared to female scientists with the men earning significantly more in the occupations of science. However, Ceci and Williams (2010) have noted that there is little evidence showing that sex discrimination in such processes is the main cause, giving a conclusion that the underrepresentation of women stems from other causes and challenges. These challenges, however, prove to have caused the entry of women into the fields of science becoming narrower and increasingly restrictive, excluding the next level talent pool (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). Therefore, this paper focus on some of the challenges that have been identified for women to be successful as scientists and evaluates some of the ways that have been suggested to confront these challenges. This essay includes three parts: introduction, main body and conclusion.

Main body

For scientists, getting the publication of research is essential as a job opportunity and to move up the ranks in professions of science. Although there is equal representation of genders in the early stages of education, at later stages, they increasingly diverge leading to a much smaller proportion of women compared to men emerging at higher levels of science (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). According to critics, men are advantaged in the processes of review and publication creating a bias on women. The study carried out by Ceci and Williams (2010) indicate that the publication rates in Cortex, Nature Neuroscience, and Journal of Biogeography have no evidence of sex discrimination. However, it is notable that other factors may affect the disproportionately high rate and bias in the process of publication for women. For instance, women were found to have a higher likelihood of working at teaching-intensive colleges and thus have no resources and time for production of high-quality and frequent research for publication. Taking into account the teaching load, the funding of the scientist, and the research assistance, the publication rates for men and women do not differ. Therefore, the critical factor in this case is not the gender of the individual but the accessibility to resources where women keep lagging behind compared to men.

Furthermore, Shen (2013) showed that the all-consuming endeavour of raising a family and the demanding schedule of academic research weigh heavily on women’s career goals. Research indicates that for both female and male postdocs without children, there are similar decisions made against research careers. However, for female postdocs that plan to have children or already have them, there is a tendency to abandoning their research careers by twice as much compared to men. Moreover, for women who eventually become faculty members in biology, physics and astronomy, there is a tendency of having fewer children compared to the men. To confront this challenge, most universities have initiated steps in establishing family-friendly policies like an extension of tenure clocks of new parents and provision of child-care assistance.

A disproportionate fraction of qualified women tends to drop out of their careers in sciences during the early stages creating a persistent challenge (Shen 2013). This has been greatly driven by the lack of role models in academia’s upper divisions which have slowly changed. Moreover, women have been discouraged from pursuing careers in sciences and engineering from their earlier educational careers let alone graduate training (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). It was found that most of the female students in sciences express low self-confidence compared to men with great dissatisfaction with mentorship (Shen 2013). The US National Research Council found that women leave their career choices in science earlier giving up their academic careers due to gender inequality and underrepresentation. The US National Science Foundation indicated that half the doctorates in engineering and science are earned by women in the United States comprising only 5% full engineering professors and 21% full science professors (Shen 2013).

Although in recent years there has been a significant improvement in the rate of women getting into the scientific professions, there are smaller numbers that reach the high-level positions (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor and Uzzi 2000). It was deduced that significant numbers of women get into the science educational careers but then leave at disproportionate rates or have less effective functionalities as covert resistance to their participation, creating friction and difficulties. To counter this issue, there have been celebrations of the achievements of successful female scientists to encourage young girls and women to do science (Shen 2013). However, there is the failure of warning them of the possible obstacles ahead in their educational careers (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). There is still the expectation of solving the problem of exclusion through organisational resistance and barriers to entry of women into the engineering and scientific professions. Therefore, only increasing the number of women embarking on scientific careers is unlikely to increase the number of women in academic sciences. It is only a partial answer through encouragement.

The aspect of encouragement also fails to include the constant difficulties that exist in all phases and stages of learning in the careers of science (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). When discouraging experiences are avoided by women at earlier stages, they still encounter them later on (Shen 2013). Women face exclusion from informal and information channels in graduate school, having less accessibility to the relationship and connection networks and social capital compared to men. The lack of such networks of social and professional psychological partners makes women require better or equal human capital of knowledge and skills, and thus have more likelihood of dropping out of graduate school (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000). For those lucky enough to receive their PhDs, the ‘halo effect’ coming from inclusion into a network is lacking. It has been argued that requiring the right human capital for mathematically intensive and physically demanding scientific work by women has caused a division in the gene pool giving them greater family attention instead. The experience of exclusion and stigma through separation leads to the tendencies of lack of self-confidence, self-blame, role confusion, and fear of risk-taking at the highest level of the faculty (Etzkowitz, Kemlegor, and Uzzi 2000).



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