Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Women in Science: We are not there yet!

The journal Nature has a special issue on women in science this week. Despite being relatively well-versed in the literature on modern gender discrimination, the salary gap, and unexamined bias, reading these articles is really, really discouraging.

It is discouraging because I know that there are thousands of women like me in first world nations around the world who are every bit as intelligent, hard-working, well-trained, and dedicated as men with the same qualifications, and yet we will not have the same opportunities as those men and when we do, we will not be compensated equally for our work.

The extensive compilations of studies related to gender in science in this week's Nature document gender discrimination in academia, in start-up companies, in board positions, and in invitations to conferences and to be keynote speakers. It also reports that the average female scientist or engineer working full-time in the US makes $60,000/yr while the average male scientist or engineer makes $80,000/yr.

The gender gap is real and it exists at every level of education from people without high school diplomas to PhD's. And it is not just a problem created by the old geezers who will retire any day; the salary gap is perpetuated by both men and women in hiring positions of all ages. As a woman in the sciences, accepting that in all likelihood I have and will be paid less than men in the same positions with the same qualifications is a hard pill to swallow. And I really hope I don't have to.

If you aren't familiar with this literature (or you think these gender issues are not real), read this Nature issue. There are things we can do, but rectifying these issues will take change from both the top and the bottom - both laws and policies and individual actions. One of the most compelling and important aspects of this issue is that we as a society are loosing some of the best talent and innovation that could be happening in the sciences and technology because women are not being encouraged, hired, and promoted in these field (even though plenty of them enter these fields).

I could go on of course, but I'll leave it here for now. Seriously though, check out the articles from Nature. If you are a human being who believes men and women should be treated equally for doing the same jobs, this matters to you! It isn't just a problem for women that has to be solved by women; it is all of our problem and we all have to solve it.

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