Elevating Women in Science
I have been contemplating the words to use in this reflection for a couple of days. Although, this is not your typical reflection and more of a commentary and contemplation. While, scrolling through Twitter I came across an article published in Nature Communications that was causing quite a stir (1). In summation the article subtly stated that women STEM mentors are not as proficient as their male counterparts in ensuring their proteges future scientific impact. However, it more directly concludes that opposite-gender mentorships may be more beneficial to female researchers.
The blatantly obvious issue I take up with the article, as a young woman in science, is the disregard for the harms on gender equality such conclusions will have, and the body of evidence and polices it contradicts. Furthermore, as a gender and climate advocate (in addition to my health science studies) it had me dumbstruck at the display of patriarchal sexism. While, the authors do suggest historical inequalities may play a role, the leap to the conclusion that moving forward this would be the case is absurd. Further, they made use of two metrics: ‘big-shot experience’, basically the number of citations of the mentor, and their network size. Importantly, the quality of a mentor cannot only be defined by these metrics and neither can the challenges faced by women in STEM.
I found countless accounts of women detailing the obstacles they have overcome in their career. Over and above the gender-pay gaps, the unequal representation of women in STEM, and sexual harassment in the workplace in general, several women cited lack of adequate mentorship and exposure to their post-doc advisors and mentors’ networks in general. As a result, when these women embraced a mentoring position their network was lacking, which dually limited their funding opportunities and their mentees exposure to a vast well-established network. Prospectively, my greatest concern is for my female peers, who as they move up in their science-related career will face the same systemic challenges. If we concede that women are the problem, without having routed out sexism in all its form, we are doing a great injustice to the future of science.
So, what can you do and what will I do? As a national youth leader on climate change, my advocacy focuses on enhancing meaningful representation of youth, women and marginalized groups in local, national and international policy spaces. Furthermore, I call for intersectional, inclusive, and just climate policies. The same can be called for in health sciences and broader STEM fields. As a friend of mine put it, ‘women are the experts of their own realties’ and as such can take charge to empower themselves and others. But what we need is allies and supporters, that aren’t only women fighting for gender equality. We need to embrace diversity and the innovations that different mindsets and experiences bring. To the women and girls, take up space! Don’t be intimidated or limited in your career aspirations. Finally support and donate to foundations that meaningfully uplift the experiences of women in science and foster strong networks and collaborations, thereby elevating the status of women in science.
- AlShebli, B., Makovi, K. & Rahwan, T. The association between early career informal mentorship in academic collaborations and junior author performance. Nat Commun 11, 5855 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19723-8