Did anybody ask for some unique and ground-breaking research?

By Sabrina Patsch, Universität Kassel and Freie Universität Berlin

Gendered language is on everyone’s lips. Gender-biased terminology (“all men human beings are created equal”), gender-neutral pronouns (“The author of the article said… and he they also stated that…”) or gendered nouns (“the chairman chairperson”) are highly discussed and ridiculed by many.

But there is more to say about language than that. Instead of talking about how to talk about people, let’s ask the question: How do people talk? And more importantly: Is there a difference in the usage of language between men and women*?

Many comedians or sit-coms built up on this and have established, or at least strengthened, gender stereotypes with respect to how men and women talk.  There is even a whole paper [1] elaborating on gender differences in using language which almost sounds like the record of a 90s TV series. Some examples:

  • Women tend to answer questions with a rising intonation instead of a falling one. “In this way, they can show their gentleness, and sometimes this intonation shows a lack of confidence.”
  • There is a specific set of feminine vocabulary that men do not use: they say blue instead of aquamarine or azure, or they call it a good meal instead of gorgeous or heavenly.
  • Women use more diminutives (e.g. hanky instead of handkerchief) or words that show affection (dearie, sweety). “If a man often uses these words, people will think that he may have psychological problem or he is not manly“.

I repeat: “psychological problem”. For using the word sweety. It should be mentioned that the few references in this paper range, with one exception from 2004, from 1968 to 1980. Besides this text ranging from entertaining to incredulous, one might ask the question what to take from that. Does it matter if I say blue or aquamarine? Does my intonation matter?

At least for the last point: Yes, it does. Imagine the situation where you sit at a table with your professor and the rest of the group. You present your research with the words “Well, I guess we made a bit of progress. The results look promising, but we need to double check. There are a few things I don’t understand yet but maybe it leads to something.”. On the other hand, your more “manly” co-worker explains his work like this: “I made great progress, I have new results which look amazing. There’s only a bit of polishing missing but I’m essentially done.”. You could be talking about the very same results and still, your professor will most likely be more excited about your co-worker’s progress. Confidence is the keyword. Selling your research well let it seem to be of higher quality – independently of how good the research actually is.

In an ideal situation, your professor knows you and might understand what you mean by what you say. In a less ideal situation, you and your research might be underrated by your professor and he or she might think that you do not know what you are doing. And what is more: In the most important situations, when asking for grants or publishing your results, you will write about your research and the readers do not know you at all.

Does the difference in language between male and female scientists pose a real, measurable problem? A very recent study asked exactly this question [2]. To answer it, the authors have estimated how positively researchers present their work by counting the number of “positive terms”- such as novel, excellent or unprecedented – in the title or abstract of a publication. They found that these words are used 12% less often in articles with female first and last author than in publication with a male first or last author. In high impact journals women were even 21% less likely to present their research positively. While this observation is not an issue per se, the authors of the study found an increase of up to 13% in subsequent citations – the unit for the quality of your work – with the usage of positive terms.

The caveat of this study is that it may include some conscious or unconscious bias against women. In a working paper from last April [3], researchers of the National Bureau of Economic Research tried to avoid this issue. They studied and compared the success of grant proposals from which all personal information on the author was erased. They found that female scientists were 16% less likely to achieve a high score on their proposal than men – even though the review process was blinded. How is that?

The researchers suggest that the word choice is the major cause of this finding. They discovered that men have a greater tendency towards “broad words”, i.e. words which are used in a broad subject area. Women, on the other hand, prefer “narrower words” which are very special to a narrow field. Beyond that, broad words often detected in high scoring proposals while lower scores were achieved when using narrow words. In other words: the quality of proposals written by female scientists is statistically perceived of lower quality – even if the quality is equally high.

The essence of this study is that there is one form of expression that is more likely to be successful than another. The successful way seems to be praising your research and promising the moon. Statistically, more men cultivate a successful mode of expression than women. But on a case-to-case basis, there are many down-to-earth men and as many head-in-the-clouds women. The current “best practice” of writing proposals and publications is disadvantaging many people – mostly, but not exclusively, women.

What is the take on that? Are women (or “female writers”) hampered by the way they are talking? Should we talk “more manly” in order to be more successful? Is all this simply the result of the self-selection of the man-dominated world science is right now? Or is this just the way science works?

There is, unfortunately, no simple answer to that. A small step is to be aware of the problem. And again, the question we must ask ourselves is:

Do we want to play the game or change the rules?

 

*Since none of the considered references took non-binary gender options into account I only talk about male and female language in this article.

[1] Xia. “Gender Differences in Using Language”. Theory and Practice in Language Studies 3(8), 2013, doi:10.4304/tpls.3.8.1485-1489 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/478d/8227a766d8d836664f52fec37b8b34c03491.pdf

[2] Lerchenmueller, Sorenson, Jena. „Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research: observational study”. BMJ 2019;367:l6573, doi: 10.1136/bmj.l6573 https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/367/bmj.l6573.full.pdf

[3] Kolev, Fuentes-Medel, Murray. “Is Blinded Review Enough? How Gendered Outcomes Arise Even Under Anonymous Evaluation”. NBER Working Paper No. 25759, 2019 https://mitsloan.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2019-06/w25759.pdf

All we need to do is wait… for 250 years

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 [1] 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 [2] 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.

 

[1] 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

[2] 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

Survey on the perception of scientists on gender equality in earth and space sciences

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.

Increase the visibility of female scientists on Wikipedia

By Niki Vavatzanidis

Dear all,

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:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Women_in_Red/Essays/Primer_for_creating_women%E2%80%99s_biographies

Have fun with it!

Nachhaltige Förderung von Schülerinnen in MINT-Fächern

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. [3] 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. [4]

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. [4] 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


[1] Anzahl der MINT-Studienanfänger* an deutschen Hochschulen nach Geschlecht in den Studienjahren von 2007/2008 bis 2016/2017;
[2] Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund; Frauen in nichtakademischen MINT-Berufen-Analyse ihrer Stellung am Arbeitsmarkt und ihrer Arbeitsbedingungen; arbeitsmarktaktuell 04; 2015;
[3] LMG Blog: Bibi Blocksberg vs. Wickie;
[4] M. Steffens und I.D. Ebert; Frauen-Männer-Karrieren: Eine sozialpsychologische Perspektive auf Frauen in männlich geprägten Arbeitskontexten; Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden; 2016;

Collaborating with Men and Gender-inclusive Workplaces

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 (ja605@cam.ac.uk), the researcher involved in this study, will be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested.

https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/about/Collaborating-with-Men

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