Are we serious about addressing gender imbalance in accessing male dominated professions such as science?

earth-2 Science-and-Technology-Some-advantages-and-disadvantagesSo if we want to address gender imbalance in science and other professions in society, what supporting infrastructure is being laid?

Situations arise at every turn in our lives which unravel the mind to question or look at things in a different light.

Last week at work brought us new enthusiastic young people whose dream of stepping in to a world of academic science gave them hope to fulfill personal ambitions and dreams.  All these young persons from different walks of life, are female and in their last years in secondary education.  Their goal at this stage is to prepare for their Nuffield education award by undertaking work experience during their summer break from school.

The application process for these sponsorship or awards can be quite arduous on its own.  The next challenge is in obtaining work placements within academic institutions. This can vary and can often be disappointingly frustrating for the students and their would-be host supervisors. images (1)

indexMost academicians are quite willing and happy to take on school age budding scientific minds.  It is the conditions and requirements imposed by institutions in order to avoid any legal issues which may arise, for example such as inappropriate adult versus minor interaction, that prevent would-be supervisors from undertaking this.  The stipulations are often quite stringent: female supervisor to supervise female student(s), any meetings with female students where a male supervisor is leading, to be held in an open office or area. In an academic/laboratory setting, this is simply not as often feasible.  After all, students often are quite keen to work within the laboratories to put to experiment  ideas as opposed to soaking in theories from textbooks or journals.

Now I’m not being funny but anyone who has worked with “serious”/genuine science professors/academicians will back me up on the fact that these guys, (and mostly they are males), are for the greater time, only interested in what goes on in their Petri-dishes.  The highlight of their conversation peaks when discussing discoveries or results of what has been crossed with what and how long it may have been spun in the centrifuge etc…

photo_co_lab_lgI have been working on the academic side as their ‘office person’ for years – I still don’t know what the pretty images are in their submitted academic papers or what they mean by gene expression let alone hybridisation of mRNA!   They give new meaning to the term computer-widow.

Now we forget; a student that seeks work placement/experience at this late stage in their academic pursuits does so out of their keen volition: to cement their academic goals.  They actually want to be there to explore, and learn, as opposed to law requirement that they be.  It is not the same as attending school out of duty/fear, such that you turn up to school and take it out on the teachers or establishment in general, behaving like an absolute jerk at any opportune moment.

The other issue we forget is that not all females actually enjoy working with fellow females as their seniors.  Not everyone is from a culture where segregation of genders is the norm nor is it the case that all male species are just waiting to jump on any available female species they set eyes on. Believe it or not, some men are quite able to control themselves and are respectful to females.  This idea that all men are to be seen as sexual predators is proving to be quite damaging in many areas of society and commonsense really needs to come back to earth.

Further irony to these work-placements in scientific institutions that have such stringent criteria is that of claiming to address the gender imbalance in society in order to encourage females to pursue science or other currently male-dominated professions.  How in the hell is this going to be facilitated if the persons within these professions who are mostly male are not facilitated with supporting personnel to oversee supervision?   Are we to live in a future where segregation is the only mode of interaction for either gender?

Surely these stringent conditions albeit understandable but borne out of fear for legal issues, are more harmful to the ideology of voiced encouragement to address gender imbalance in professions such as science et al.

From experience dealing with young persons, I often find that seeking their take is far more conducive and productive to what we adults assume is correct.  Has anyone asked would-be-students, their take in all these measures  in order to obtain a workable solution that does not leave many young female budding scientists, loose out?


A question of preparation

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.”

— Francis Bacon

Often we are faced with situations or opportunities (setting aside exam time scenarios!) when we engage with persons we either admire or disagree with.  Unfortunately, it is when such an opportunity/situation has passed that the ‘light-bulb’ moment shines through and we smack ourselves on the forehead for not having said or asked this or that question.  On the other hand, when we do ask the question, come away still not quite satisfied.  Any of this rings a bell?

No. I am not talking about that date once upon a time which went belly-up…

Take for instance a friend of mine today shared a joke about a couple whose marriage came to a grinding halt following revelations of an indiscretion which took place in the very early years of their marriage.  The long end of it all was that my friend was warning fellow “good men” out there to avoid at all costs revealing any secrets to their better halves. Reason being in that although some of us can say we forgive, we do not forget.  Well, I could see his point of view in as much as how we each define forgiveness…and forgetting! I guess it could be comparable to asking a husband to forgive and forget upon finding out after decades of being married, that the children or one of them was not biologically his.

I tend to be intrigued by this forgive and forget carry-on…What are we forgiving, the act of indiscretion or the person’s fall from grace?  Are we seeking forgiveness for being caught out or for having kept it a secret? I do agree forgiveness is essential for self-healing foremost, I just do not agree about forgetting the reasons or lessons of that which you are forgiving. For in forgetting the causes/reasons, chances of repeating similar occurrences from taking place will most likely be the pattern.

But back to my original quest of why it is important to prepare yourself beforehand for everything and anything.  Preparation is always the key.  Let’s take a moment and consider some questions that are truly empowering for many given situations:

Is there a message for me in this experience?

  • What’s the gift in this situation?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What’s the most loving thing I could do now?
  • What’s the most important thing for me to focus on now?
  • What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  • What would I do if there were nothing to fear?

Realise. By pausing these questions to yourself, often making a rushed decision or even saying something that could cause you egg on your face, you give yourself a moment’s reflection to finding out the gravity of it.