It is an often cited fact that despite equal proportions of male and female undergraduate students in science, female scientists are underrepresented at higher career stages. For example, in Europe only about 20% of all full professors are female. In addition, women in science earn less money for the same work, they are less likely to get research grants, are less likely to be promoted and hence, are more likely to leave science than equally qualified men. As sad as it sounds: science is institutionally sexist.
You don’t believe me? Read the articles in the nature special on women in science. Or consider this 2012 paper from PNAS showing how male applicants are favoured when applying for a laboratory manager positions. For this article, identical CVs were sent out with either John or Jennifer as first name on them. The evaluation of their resumes resulted in Jennifer being less likely to be hired, less likely to be mentored, to be paid less and generally considered less competent (n=127). This bias prevailed, irrespective of the gender distribution of the search committee members.
It is clear that women face many additional challenges when pursuing an academic career, including seemingly mundane problems, such as adequate childcare options, but also the unconscious but prevalent gender bias described above and outright open sexism.
In order to specifically address those issues, we recently held our first Female Leaders in Science (FLIS) course, specifically tailored for women. The course, which was initiated and organized by EMBO, took place in Heidelberg end of June this year with 17 participants. In addition to common problems many scientists we coach encounter, several very specific topics were discussed, which we believe would not have been addressed in mixed gender course in the same breadth and depth.
Our own experience was certainly very positive and we believe, our Female Leaders in Science (FLIS) courses make a lot of sense – at least until the gender bias in science is abolished. We also got the impression that the participants benefitted. 82% gave an overall rating of very good or excellent for the three day course and all of the participants felt that the course had a positive impact on their self confidence as a female leader in science.