By Shyama Vermeersch and Anja Allabar, Lise Meitner Society Tübingen Gender, Career Paths and Networking In a world where nothing seems certain anymore, it was reassuring that the annual ‘I, Scientist’ conference, an initiative from… More
By Sabrina Patsch, Universität Kassel and Freie Universität Berlin
Times are changing. It is becoming more normal to see female scientists. I had two female fellow students, one of the physics professors of my university is female and a woman just won the Nobel prize for physics. System changes are slow but once the new generation reaches the age of senior researchers gender parity will be there.
Congratulations! We’re done. Time to lean back, give ourselves a pat on the back and enjoy a merry future.
Wouldn’t it be nice? But – I’m sorry – things are not as easy as that. Studies show  that, if we just keep going on as before, gender parity in physics will be reached in no less than 258 years. As a comparison: the feminist movement started in the late 19th century which would mean that we made only about a third of the way.
There are many reasons for this. Of course, also demography plays a role. When today’s senior scientists were young, they had much less female fellow students than the students have nowadays. But this demographic inertia is not sufficient to explain the slow adjustment in gender parity we see today. Another reason is visualised by the metaphor of the leaky pipeline: there are many women at the beginning of the academic journey but only a few make it until the end. Of course, also not every man reaches top positions in research. But the percentage of women is decreasing from step to step or, to follow the metaphor, from junction to junction. May it be due to hindrances or because they “chose” to leave academia.
Let’s face it: academia does not glisten with promises of a luxurious or secure life. The way to the top goes through numerous countries and uncountable temporary positions without the guarantee to reach the goal at all. Impossible to plan your life – or even the next three years. That perspective is not very attractive and many choose to pursue another career with more security.
But this does not sound like a women’s problem per se, does it? Aren’t men affected by this as well? Of course they are – but still it is only on conferences dedicated to female scientists that this issues are being addressed openly. Changing the system can help to make academia a more attractive place for a lot of bright people who just do not want to live a hermit life for the sake of an academic career.
In addition to women falling of the career ladder, there are also significantly less girls setting their foot on the bottom rung of the STEM ladder in the first place. The reasons for this are again innumerable. Girls do not have enough female scientific role models, they cannot picture themselves as scientists, and girls are “worse at maths than boys” anyway. As for the last argument, it is important to bear in mind that career decisions are usually not made on the basis of absolute but relative abilities. In other words: People usually decide to study what they are best at and not what they are sufficiently good at. So someone who is good at math but even better at something else will most likely decide to study… something else. And indeed: a recent study  showed that the higher reading ability of girls, as compared to their math skills and also the reading abilities of boys, can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields while the sheer difference in maths performance is not able to do so.
Shouldn’t we encourage everybody to study what they are best at? The subject in which they are most likely to develop their full potential? In principle yes, but the occurrence of this difference in abilities seems quite peculiar by itself. One obvious explanation seems to be the very different education of girls and boys. Girls are, for instance, usually more encouraged to read and dream while boys are expected to be more practical and to make things. Even the most trying parents have a hard time to raise their kids without gender expectations. Our society is full of them. Never have there been more gendered toys, more pink and blue in our world than today. Parents who tried to show their kids that they can become everything they want will be disappointed one day when their little girl comes home from the nursery school telling them that she can’t be a knight anymore and that she wants to be a princess now – the other girls said so.
It’s hard to be a knight amongst princesses. It’s hard to be the only girl in the advanced math course. It’s hard to be the only women on a conference.
And who can blame them for wanting to be just like the other girls? They should not need to justify themselves. They should not need the strength to “be different”. And they should not need to wait 258 years for it.
 L. Holman, D. Stuart-Fox, C. E. Hauser (2018) The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented? PLoS Biol 16(4): e2004956. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2004956
 T. Breda, C. Napp (2019) Girls’ comparative advantage in reading can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields. PNAS 116 (31) 15435-15440. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1905779116
The German Physical Society’s Physik Journal reached a new low in its current issue featuring a special section on this year’s Physics Nobel prizes. Half of the prize was awarded for the method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses, and was awareded in equal share to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou. However, to honor the laureates and their discovery the Physik Journal managed to publish an article portraying Mourou as the brilliant genius (e.g., “äußerst innovativen und großartig visionären Wissenschaftler”) and mentioning Strickland only on the side, in one sentence in the whole article, as the PhD student who did some measurements (article; paywall).
Among illustrations showing the physical principles, the article starts with a big photo showing not the both Nobel laureates, but instead Mourou and the article’s author, sitting in the first row at a meeting of mostly old men. At the end of the article there’s even another photo of the author, who is Science and Technology Manager at an ELI facility in the Czech Republic. ELI is a research infrastrucure that Mourou had initiated, and remember: to promote ELI, Mourou had had made a “funny” creepy sexist video showing himself in the lab decorated by undressing half-naked young women (No Mourou, this is fun — yours is just creepy).
It’s worth noting that this article appeared in the Physik Journal’s December issue, so way after the uproar on the fact that a few months before Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel prize, a Wikipedia article was written about her but not approved by a Wikipedia moderator saying Strickland doesn’t qualify for Wikipedia.
So it’s not only that women are often neglected by the Nobel committee (e.g., Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Deborah Jin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Vera Rubin) but when they are awarded they are almost entirely neglected in an article honoring them, making it sound like Donna Strickland received the prize just by mistake.
Colleagues have contacted the Physik Journal’s editorial board, but unfortunately they see no wrongdoing on their side, claiming only the author is responsible for the article.
For context: The German Physical society (DPG) claims to be the largest Physical Society in the whole world, however they are even today lacking basic programs or a division for e.g. diversity and inclusion which e.g. the US-American APS and AIP and the British IOP have installed for long time now (And here’s a symptomatic photo showing the previous, the current, and the future DPG presidents).
The society’s journal is the monthly “Physik Journal”. I had written an opinion piece on women* and queer inclusion in Physics, which after many alterations appeared in a very soft version on page 3 of the Physik Journal’s June 2018 issue. It had provoked people to leave the society, people claiming my article had no relevance at all and comparing me to the Nazis (and the Physik Journal even printed the Nazi comparison in a Letter to the Editor section of a later issue), but there is no interest by the society’s board in this topic at all.
I’m advocating for equal opportunities and women* visibility in the DPG for years now as board member of their working group on equal opportunities (AKC) but it’s so frustrating. Does anyone have any idea what to do with this? Please do write me because by now when I see such articles I start to feel like I just want to go to bed and sleep, I’m so extremely tired of all this. But this is dangerous. We as a society should not tolerate this anymore.
Dr. Stefanie Lutz, scientist at UFZ Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, and her colleagues are calling for participation in the following survey:
The results will be presented on April 11, 2018, during the EGU General Assembly.
With this survey, we would like to find out more about the perception of scientists on gender equality in earth and space sciences. We would be glad if you might be willing to answer a few questions (of course anonymously) and also forward the survey to your colleagues.
To complete the survey, please follow the link: https://goo.gl/forms/KSZNESoLrEBgHlc62
The survey is addressed to anyone feeling broadly associated with earth and space sciences (including geosciences and environmental sciences) and should take you only five minutes to complete. The broader the spectrum of career levels, disciplines and genders of people participating, the more representative our results will be.
By taking the survey, you agree on the publication of the results in the session ‘Promoting and supporting equality of opportunities in geosciences’ at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly 2018 as well as potential further scientific publication.
By Niki Vavatzanidis
if you are reading this, chances are high that you already are interested in empowering women in science (congratulations) and here is a very nice opportunity to go from “interested” to “actively promoting”. And that’s even without moving from your comfy couch!
How so? Less than 20% of biographies in Wikipedia are about women, meaning that too many links to women are red (as in: non-existent content). A WikiProject called “women in red” wants to change that by getting more and more blue links to women’s biographies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red).
So here is the chance to finally create your first Wikipedia article! Choose your favourite female scientist and write about her. Or translate an already existing biography and spread the knowledge into more corners of the world. Or improve an already existing article.
Of course, you can do this any time. If you like the additional inspiration of a group event, however, you can join the edit-a-thon taking place on March 24, 2018 in Berlin – online or in person: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikimedia_Deutschland/Edith-a-thon_Frauen_in_Rot (sorry, the page is in German only, but an online translation should help).
Can’t make it on Saturday? Maybe you’d like to arrange your own little edit-a-thon with friends around a pot of tea or coffee.
Help make women blue in Wikipedia!
Interested? Here are some first steps:
Have fun with it!
Das Projekt Überfliegerin sucht Zuwachs!
Gastartikel von Rut Waldenfels, Physikerin und Gründerin von Überfliegerin
Der Anteil von Studienanfängerinnen in den MINT-Fächern betrug im Wintersemester 2016/2017 an deutschen Hochschulen immer noch weniger als 30%, in Ausbildungsberufen war das Verhältnis im Juni 2014 mit einem Anteil von 12% noch weniger ausgeglichen.
Warum ist im MINT-Bereich der Anteil von Frauen immer noch so niedrig?
Der Einfluss von geschlechtsspezifischen Rollenbildern auf die Berufs- und Studienwahl spielt hier die Hauptrolle. Im- und explizite Erwartungen an Frauen und ihre Berufswahl, sowie (oft unbewusste) Hindernisse auf Grund ihres Geschlechts sind in unserer Gesellschaft allgegenwärtig und bestimmen das Interesse von jungen Frauen an MINT-Fächern. [1, 2] Entdecker, Erfinder, Forscher – das Bild, was zu diesen Begriffen allein durch das sprachliche Maskulinum im Kopf entsteht, ist das eines Mannes. Dieses Bild bestätigt sich in zahlreichen (Jugend-)Büchern und Filmen, in denen die großen Abenteurer und genialen Tüftler sehr viel häufiger Männer sind.  Auch im realen Leben sind erfolgreiche weibliche Vorbilder in MINT-Berufen wenig sichtbar. Aber Vorbilder, sowohl aus fiktiven Geschichten als auch reale Personen, geben Perspektiven und Identifikationsmöglichkeiten, machen neugierig und engagiert. In der Pubertät wird die Abgrenzung über das Merkmal Geschlecht wichtiger und gelernte Vorurteile verfestigen sich: weniger weiblich wirken, weil man mit guten Noten in Physik leicht zum „Nerd“ abgestempelt wird oder sich von vornherein in einer Gruppe von überwiegend Jungs nicht zugehörig fühlt, kann bewusst oder unbewusst das Interesse entscheidend beeinflussen. Deutlich zeigt sich dies auch daran, dass sich die Leistungen von Schülerinnen in mathematischen Tests signifikant verschlechtern, sobald sie vor Testbeginn ihr Geschlecht angeben müssen. 
Nachhaltige Förderung bedeutet die gesellschaftlichen Einflüsse zu adressieren.
Eine nachhaltige Förderung von Nachwuchs-MINTlerinnen, die diese gesellschaftlichen Einflüsse adressiert und soziale Fähigkeiten zum Umgang damit stärkt, ist deshalb unbedingt sinnvoll und notwendig. Mein Projekt, die Gründung des Förderinstituts „Überfliegerin“, soll genau das leisten. Ich selbst bin Physikerin und möchte mit „Überfliegerin“ auch meine persönlichen Erfahrungen, die ich in der Auseinandersetzung mit geschlechterbasierten Vorurteilen bzw. ihren gesellschaftlichen Auswirkungen gesammelt habe, in der Praxis einsetzen und weitergeben. Ich möchte Schülerinnen dazu motivieren, selbstbewusst an MINT-Inhalte heranzugehen, gesellschaftliche Hindernisse zu überwinden und Begeisterung für „typische“ Männerberufe und Fächer zu entwickeln. Im Jahr 2012 war ich Teil des Organisationsteams der deutschen Physikerinnentagung und habe an mehreren Tagungen und Veranstaltungen mit ähnlichem Hintergrund und Coachings im Rahmen von Förderprogrammen von Studentinnen teilgenommen. Die Erfahrungen, die ich dort sammeln konnte, und der Austausch mit anderen Wissenschaftlerinnen haben mich darin bestärkt, dass ein gesellschaftlicher Wandel vor allem durch Förderung von jungen Frauen voran gebracht werden kann. Überfliegerin soll Schülerinnen die notwendigen Mittel an die Hand geben, sich im MINT-Bereich zu Hause zu fühlen.
Die Zielgruppe des Projekts sind Schülerinnen mit fachlichem Förderungsbedarf in den Fächern Mathematik, Physik und Chemie zunächst an Gymnasien ab der 8. Klassenstufe. Es wird schuljahresbegleitende Kurse und Ferienblockkurse geben. Ich möchte mit dem Konzept eine möglichst heterogene Gruppe ansprechen: das Angebot richtet sich sowohl an Schülerinnen mit guten bis mittelmäßigen Noten, als auch an Schülerinnen mit schlechteren Noten. Inhaltlich orientiert sich der Kurs eng an den Lehrplänen und den momentanen fachlichen Themen im Unterricht der Kursteilnehmerinnen. Der inhaltliche Umfang eines Kurses, d.h. die Schwierigkeit der Übungsaufgaben und des vermittelten Stoffs, wird innerhalb der Gruppe differenziert auf die Schülerinnen zugeschnitten. Das Angebot ist exklusiv für junge Frauen, um einen geschützten Rahmen zu schaffen. Ergebnisse verschiedener Studien legen nahe, dass Schülerinnen im Schnitt bessere Leistungen in MINT-Fächern erzielen, wenn sie in rein weiblichen Gruppen unterrichtet werden.  Neben der fachlichen Förderung wird es in den Kursen ein Präsentations- und Kommunikationstraining geben. Offene Diskussionen werden ermutigt und moderiert. Die Schülerinnen profitieren von der Gruppe, indem sie üben, Gelerntes mit den anderen Mitgliedern präzise und verständlich formuliert zu teilen. Aktuelle Übungsaufgaben werden kooperativ mit ständiger Unterstützung der Lehrkraft gelöst. Außerdem werden Geschlechterstereotype und deren Auswirkung spielerisch und interaktiv erarbeitet. Zwischen den Kursterminen wird eine Vernetzung und Kooperation gefördert, z.B. durch die Unterstützung digitaler Medien, wie Messenger oder Social Media Gruppen. Fragen können dort zeitnah gestellt werden und eventuell schon mit Hilfe von den anderen Gruppenmitgliedern beantwortet werden. Zusätzlich zu dem regulären Kursangebot werden freiwillige Veranstaltungen angeboten, in denen die Kursgruppen Frauen in spannenden Berufen an ihrem Arbeitsplatz besuchen oder ihre Fähigkeiten bei Experimentiernachmittagen erproben können. Dazu möchte ich eine Kooperation mit bestehenden Projekten im Bereich der MINT-Förderung aufbauen.
Naturwissenschaftlerin mit Vision und Unternehmer(innen)geist gesucht.
Überfliegerin sucht Zuwachs! Hat dieser Artikel dein Interesse geweckt und du bist eine idealistische Naturwissenschaftlerin mit Lehramts-, Master- oder Promotionsabschluss voller Tatendrang? Für dich ist eine selbstständige Tätigkeit absolut vorstellbar und spannend? Das Projekt ist in der Konzeptionsphase – es gibt also noch viel Gestaltungsspielraum. Schreib einfach eine Mail mit ein paar Infos zu deinem beruflichen Hintergrund und ich beantworte gerne alle deine Fragen zum aktuellen Stand der Konzeption, Finanzierung und Umsetzung. Die Gründung des Instituts ist in Frankfurt am Main geplant. Startzeitpunkt des Angebots ist Anfang des Schuljahrs 2018/2019.
Kontakt: nachricht [at] ueberfliegerin.de
 Anzahl der MINT-Studienanfänger* an deutschen Hochschulen nach Geschlecht in den Studienjahren von 2007/2008 bis 2016/2017;
 Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund; Frauen in nichtakademischen MINT-Berufen-Analyse ihrer Stellung am Arbeitsmarkt und ihrer Arbeitsbedingungen; arbeitsmarktaktuell 04; 2015;
 LMG Blog: Bibi Blocksberg vs. Wickie;
 M. Steffens und I.D. Ebert; Frauen-Männer-Karrieren: Eine sozialpsychologische Perspektive auf Frauen in männlich geprägten Arbeitskontexten; Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden; 2016;
Every year in Fall when the Nobel prizes are announced I get a little bit more angry. When I was a child and young student I was amazed and fascinated by the Nobel prize, and thought that Nobel laureates are the single most awesome scientists. When I studied Physics at the university my then-lover and I were sure that we will of course one day be awarded the prize, as we loved Physics, were curious about everything and spent most nights and days discussing and deriving and finding problems we wanted to solve. Of course we didn’t do that for some far goal of getting an award, but that award seemed like a natural logic consequence in the life of an awesome scientist.
At the university in Germany where I studied ten years ago all professors were men, literally all, of the some 40-50 professors at the Physics department. Still, when I was a student I didn’t think at all that merit or science awards have something to do with gender – or rather, that natural sciences have something to do with societal issues – because it’s about science, it only has to do with who is talented, intelligent, dedicated, and not with gender, right?
That was then.
I learned about many exciting discoveries, and with that, I learned about the scientists who made them, and some of them were women. Continuing in my studies I started getting more and more doubts about the Nobel prize, seeing my heroines being overlooked year after year.
I used to think it’s sad and unfortunate, but well, maybe next year. Now I see this in a different way, even more so since day before yesterday: it is political.
I started reading a bit about women in Physics, and many of their life stories are sad, heartbreaking and infuriating for the injustice and neglect they experienced, and the merit men got for discoveries women made.
Seven of this year’s Nobel laureates held a press conference in Stockholm day before yesterday. Apparently, to explain the lack of women among Nobel laureates they said things like “Change is coming, but there is a long delay between entering freshman and the Nobel prize.” (Kip Thorne) and “Science has been made by males, for males. It is changing, it takes time, but you will see it, they (women in science) are coming.” (Jacques Dubochet)
Reading these inconsiderate statements now made me furious. I can think of many women who did awesome and undoubtedly Nobel-prize-worthy research but were neglected, ignored, betrayed by men who got the merit and the Nobel prize for their discovery. A few who immediately come to my mind are Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Vera Rubin and Deborah Jin.
So now it’s ultimate. The Nobel prize is a platform for ignorant unthoughtful (unreflektierte) white old men who fail to recognize their privileges to celebrate themselves, reassuring white men in general that they are superior and stabilizing the hegemonial patriarchic order of the society. This is toxic and harmful and we have to get over this.
Apart from all of this there were questionable campaigns like more than 100 Nobel laureates condemning Greenpeace publicly at the Lindau meeting in 2016. Only because someone was awarded this prize doesn’t mean that he understands every aspect of every scientific discipline, but exactly this is the widespread notion that is continuously reinforced, also by the media.
Dear nobel laureates, there is extensive research done on gender-related discrimination in science. I suggest you refer to the literature and revoke the statements you made publicly. Actually, knowing the literature on gender and diversity in science is your duty as privileged white men. But please don’t annoy women, people of color or members of underrepresented minorities by asking them about these issues. Before you do this, it is your duty to go ahead and research the literature, and not the duty of underprivileged people to explain your privileges to you.
Last year there was a public outcry, with the hashtag #NobelforVeraRubin. While last year I thought that was a good idea and also participated in it on twitter and used the hashtag, by now I think this and similar efforts go in the wrong direction. I lost all hopes for the Nobel committee and the academy. First, I thought shaming the committee would be the way. But no, now I vote for ignoring this award altogether. We can all contribute to stop the public idolatry that distorts reality.
The whole issue is of course not limited to the Nobel prize, please also check Katrin’s article on awards of the German Physical Society – Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft e.V.
And discrimination is of course not limited to gender. The white women whom I mentioned and also I myself are and were of course still privileged compared to for example people of color who could have discovered awesome things but didn’t even have the chance to work in science in the first place. The reasons of this article were the statements of the Nobel laureates on women in science, that’s why the article explicitly focusses on this.
By Wing Ying Chow, Postdoc at a research institute in Berlin
When asked about the issues facing women in science or more broadly in the working environment, most people probably would think of the fact that women may have children and it would be a challenge to balance work and family life from then onwards. Leaving aside the implicit assumption that women would be “in charge” of family life and therefore find more conflict with the time they can spend at work, is this actually the biggest factor?
From a survey of 954 women who graduated from the University of Cambridge, it was found that the most commonly mentioned career challenge was not actually balancing family and work (22%), but challenges within the workplace itself (38%). This suggested that women’s career issues arise not only because women have children, but perhaps more because workplaces and the associated culture were developed at a time when only men were working, and changes still need to be made to make workplaces more inclusive.
What changes would these be? It is against this background that Murray Edwards College carried out a study titled “Collaborating with Men”, presented on 23 September to an audience of alumni, staff and students. Dame Barbara Stocking, the President of Murray Edwards College, pointed out that previous emphasis has been on “fixing the women”, but the changes required in workplace culture can only be solved by men and women working together. In addition, gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it matters and can have benefit for men as well as women.
To find out what changes can benefit gender equality and to come up with actionable recommendations, 40 men working in a range of sectors including business, civil service and academia (and different career stages) participated in a workshop, several focus groups and some were interviewed to understand what men think about the impact of workplace culture on women and what possible remedies there are.
The study emphasised that men are generally motivated to improve workplace culture. Early career men tend to be more individually motivated and are more open to changing their behaviour, but many tend to think that “the job is done” already regarding women’s issue in the workplace. Mid-career men are busier in their work and personal lives and can see gender issues as yet another thing they have to deal with, but also have more personal experience of the impact of having families on women’s lives. From this, it is clear that men of various career stages can be motivated to champion gender diversity, though continuing to raise awareness will be key for engaging with men in the early stage of their careers when they are more likely to become active allies for gender equality.
Benevolent sexism was raised as an issue that can affect many women in the workplace, where women get channelled into jobs that they are believed to be good at, whether it is more teaching in an academic setting or more caring/managing roles in a business setting. This leads to women staying in mid-level roles rather than being promoted to leadership roles.
One issue that was often surprising to men was that many women feel that their voices are not being heard, for example in meetings, even when the women are in a comparatively senior position. Many women in the audience agreed, saying the greater problem is not just the fact that the expression of their ideas gets interrupted, but also that the same idea gets picked up later on by men who receive credit. On this issue, the men in the study first assumed that women were not speaking up. After some further discussion, it was suggested that differences in tone, phrasing and even pitch of the voice of women that may lead to men’s voices and opinions being heard more than women’s. Based on this feedback, one of the recommendations of this study was to organise reverse mentoring where junior women would mentor senior men or managers, to help those in charge understand how things are like from the women’s perspective.
The strategy of amplification was also raised during the discussion. This is famously practised by the female staffers in Obama’s administration, where ideas offered by women would be repeated and given credit for it by another person, thus making it possible for women’s voices and ideas to be properly heard and credited. Obviously, this would require women to have other allies in the meeting, which brings in another aspect of cultural issues in the workplace — one where men find it easier to form unspoken alliances with other men.
One aspect that the study focussed on was where women are not as integrated into the peer group in the workplace as men, particularly in informal networking. It was highlighted that men and women have different styles and views of networking, where men often maintain larger networks consciously, in case someone they met turns out to be helpful later; women are more likely to join formal women’s networks and also tend to be more transactional, only getting in contact when they have a specific request or offer. Moreover, due to worries of sexual harassment, it can often seem “safer” to interact with people of the same gender. As a result, the informal networks tend to be gender separated. This is, unfortunately, not in women’s favour as men can feel that they cannot sponsor women as strongly as they would sponsor a “good guy” that they have more informal interactions with. In the recommendations of the study, some schemes for building closer relationships were proposed, which not only give more opportunities for networking across genders but can also improve the communication within an organisation in general.
Murray Edwards College is extending an invitation to institutes and companies that are motivated to improve their workplace culture to try out some of the recommendations in their report. To read the full report and recommendations, please see the links below. Jill Armstrong (email@example.com), the researcher involved in this study, will be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested.
2017 Report: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/news/collaborating-with-men-report-talks-about-changing-workplace-culture
2017 Action plan: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/Report%202%20-%20Collaborating%20with%20Men%20July%202017.pdf
2014 Survey results: https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/sites/default/files/files/Women%20Today%20Women%20Tomorrow%20Survey%20Report.pdf
Last month I participated in the International Conference on Women in Physics as a delegate of the German Physical Society. Among all fields in the natural sciences, Physics is one with the lowest participation of women. Many organizations today recognize this and support programs to enhance women participation in Physics, some at a national level, and most often these were initiated by women themselves.
With the Working Group on Women in Physics in the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) this issue is brought to the international level, and since 2002 women in Physics meet internationally every three years on alternating continents. This conference is made possible by the personal commitment of women who in addition to organizing a professional academic conference also raised funds for more than 50 travel grants to enable women in Physics from developing countries attend the conference, which deeply impressed me.
The conference itself is special in a way that it combines talks and poster sessions on research in Physics, research on social sciences aspects of Physics and research organizations and reports from the participating countries with workshops in which we worked on ways to make the environment in academic organizations in Physics more inclusive. These workshops were really unique. Each workshop brought together approx. 20-30 women in Physics from different countries, different social backgrounds and different career levels.
I participated in the workshop on gender and intersectionality. Over three days we first reflected on our own identities and how different aspects combine to foster discrimination or privilege. In many aspects we realized that the problem is really not simple and it is hardly possible to bring down discrimination to single, isolated issues (e.g., being a woman) as we all have many parts of our identities which intersect. Many of us also realized that we are not aware of some parts of our identities, especially those which give us privileges. In input presentations we learned about ways of discrimination in other countries which don’t exist in our own cultural background but could be present in our institutions when we work with people from different cultural backgrounds.
We then developed guidelines for ourselves and our country teams and team leaders which all of us bring home to our national organizations. But we also drafted demands to our national organizations as well as to the IUPAP. These demands were later discussed in a plenary discussion with all participants, as were the demands of the other workshops, and were boiled down to a set of a few realistic demands to the IUPAP. I was a bit disappointed by that, because some of our initial demands were rejected by the plenum as being to progressive and unrealistic. I realize that I’m probably to naive and impatient and have no idea about global science policy. But on the other side I won’t give up my impatience because otherwise we will not change much in our lifetimes.
To be honest I must say that that participation in the workshops was quite embarrassing for the national Physical Society of Germany. While in many other countries the diversity issue is well recognized in all levels of the organizations and the work for inclusion is institutionalized, in Germany in the Physical Society the work to mitigate gender discrimination still solely relies on a few women doing volunteer work in their free time, who then often even get discouraged from campaigning for diversity as it might harm their personal careers. While I myself was hesitant to get involved when I first started a few years ago, I now find it ridiculous.
During all this it was awesome and so enriching that the Canadian team had brought a sociologist who participated in and partly led our workshop. This was very hard to manage for them as the IUPAP actually only provides participation in the conference to physicists. We included it in our demands that this policy needs to be changed.
Also in Germany I experienced it so often that we as physicists want to change something in our own organizations, and we meet with physicists from other institutions at conferences, sometimes even with particularly women in Physics, but far too often we are lacking knowledge of the actual reasons for the less diversity in organizations and the best ways to improve it, and here I also vote for much more exchange with the social sciences. In our bill we included the demand that all IUPAP conferences must provide a session on inclusion, resp. diversity aspects in Physics. I’m curious to see its implementation and the further developments.
When it comes to visibility of women in natural science there is not only a lack in the occupation of high job positions and the promotion of women – also female researchers often get less honored and awarded for their work. The German Physical Society (DPG) – the biggest physical society world wide – has several prizes which they award every year. The two most import and most honourable ones are the Max-Planck-Medal for outstanding theoretical work and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal for outstanding experimental work. Beside that, there are for example prizes especially for young researchers, for good interdisciplinary research and didactic, for technical centered research or for pupils. One prize, the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, is especially for young female researchers (initiated by the working group on equal opportunities of the DPG: AKC). The names of all awardees can be found online on the website of the DPG.
Looking at the numbers of female prize winners, I found somehow alarming*. In total there are 543 awarded persons, and only 48 of them are women. This is just 8.8 %. If one does not take into account the all-female winners of the Hertha-Sponer-Prize, we reach 528 awarded persons from which are 33 women (6.3 %). If additionally the awardees of the pupils prize (11,0 % female) are omitted, from 355 laureates there are only 14 women left (3.9 %).
There are also prizes without a single women ever awarded. These are 3 out of 11, meaning 27.3 %. One of this three prizes is the honourable Sern-Gerlach Medal (since 1988). Note: The pendant for theoretical physics has exactly one awarded women since 1929: Lise Meitner!
Ok, now some people say the field of physics was long time a full men dominated field but it all changed and there is no discrimination nowadays – let’s have a look on some numbers of prize winners only since 2000:
The total number of awarded persons is 326. From this 45 are female, which means a rise to 13.8 %. If we look at numbers without the Herta-Sponer-Prize, it is 30 women out of 311 (9.6 %), and without taking into account the pupils prize (11,0 %), we end up again with only 8.0 % (11 women out of 138).
Interestingly is the last number mentioned before for all years: prizes without a single women. Looking only at prize winners since 2000 there are 5 instead of 3 awards (out of 11) without a single female laureate – including both the Max-Planck-Medal and the Stern-Gerlach-Medal! These are 45.5 % awards without honoring one single women since 2000 in the biggest physical society worldwide. Wow!
To be recognized in research, to get promoted, to get permanent positions, and a professorship, visibility and publicity is of high importance. And this can be reached for example by getting awarded for your outstanding work. I want to encourage all people who think that these numbers should be changed to take action! There are several prizes and fellowships where you can apply yourself – just try it! For example there is the Emmy-Noether-Program for experienced young researchers (which just changed their regulations to make the program more family friendly) or the Heisenberg-Program for people who head for a professorship (both DFG) .
If you don’t want to apply yourself – then nominate someone else! To mention just a few possibitities here:
The online portal academics is looking in the moment for the “Young researcher of the year” (Deadline for 2017 call: 30th of September 2017). For all mentioned DPG prizes you can nominate persons (unfortunately the deadline for 2018 has already passed, but stay tuned for the 2019 call). And also the GDCh (German Chemical Society) has a list of awards, where you can nominate people for (Deadline for 2018 call: 29th of September 2017).
Are there other awards you have in mind where people can apply for or one can nominate people? Write us here or on our facebook page and get more women awarded!
*The following prizes where taken into account:
Max-Planck-Medal, Stern-Gerlach-Medal, Walter-Schottky-Prize, Gustav-Hertz-Prize, Robert-Wichard-Pohl-Prize, Medal for Natural Science Publishing, Hertha-Sponer-Prize, Georg-Simon-Ohm-Prize, Georg-Kerschensteiner-Prize, The DPG Prize for excellent physics-teaching at schools, School Students’ Prize
The years in which prizes where not awarded to persons are not counted (e.g. Medal for Natural Science Publishing, 2008: “Die Sendung mit der Maus”). The numbers of female / male award winners was counted based on their names. Persons with names which where not directly associated with a male or female person and the respective prize winner could not be found online by further research (7 persons from the School Students’ Prize), were excluded from the numbers.
A few days ago an article was published in Science on sexism in academia, written by a postdoc about her abusive supervisor.
Whenever I read such stories they deeply move me. I, too, have experienced similar situations, at different universities, in different countries, on different continents; as the affected person and as a friend or colleague, and with both male and female professors.
Apart from the article content itself the fact that it had to be published anonymously to protect the author concerns me. In our society and in academia in particular the victims (or survivors) of misbehaving supervisors are punished when going public while professors usually don’t have to worry about any consequences.
While writing this post I started describing my own experiences but stopped as it created a feeling of extreme paralyzation and helplessness in me, while at the same time this is mixed with anger and rage.
Articles on personal experiences of sexism are important as they reveal that sexism in academia is not a personal private problem but a structural one.
When people grow up in a patriachal society and then get the privileges and power of professorship with students who are completely dependent on them, and often even have to leave the country if they have to leave the university (unless they find a legal alien or citizen to marry them) is toxic.
I believe we are now at a point that we have to ask ourselves: do we really want to live in such a society? And is this an environment in which creative and innovative research can thrive?
All sexist and discriminatory behaviour must become socially ostracized!
Here you can find the article in Science which I referred to.
Another interesting recent article is this from CNNtech.