As we reported on last year, far fewer women with science degrees end up going into STEM careers than men; in some fields, the disparity is more akin to a chasm.
In the UK, for example, just 6 percent of qualified engineers are women. In the US, just one-in-five faculty geoscientists are female. There are hints that things are beginning to change – there are proportionally more women in both the life and physical sciences today than in 1990 – but the pace of change is embarrassingly slow.
It’s a dangerous cycle – the lack of women in these jobs makes it harder for others to join, and so on – and the fewer women there are in STEM, the less things will change.
“The findings are shocking, but I am unsurprised,” a female PhD researcher, speaking under condition of anonymity, tells IFLScience. “Discrimination against women is almost an accepted norm in academic circles.”
“When starting my PhD it was made clear that I was not as likely to succeed as my male peers, that I would experience more barriers to career progression, and that the academic currency of promotion was poorly suited to women – who, as a result of their evolutionary history, would have to take time out to bear a child,” she adds.
“It was the first time I’d ever considered my gender a limitation on what I might achieve.”
Although noting that she has been “lucky enough to not have experienced sexual harassment or direct gender discrimination,” she explains that the bias she encounters is a “subtle undercurrent,” one that comes with day-to-day work.
“I don’t believe this bias is intentional, or done with malice, but an unconscious preference that exists for reasons I can’t comprehend.”
Asking what might be done to fix this widespread problem, she suggests that “if there was a clear answer there, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in.”
When it comes to the biggest, most complex problems that we all face, it’s becoming increasingly clear that empowering women will change the world, perhaps even save it. With that in mind, it’s time to consign this discrimination to the dustbin of history.