More on women in palaeontology

OK, I have calmed down a bit by now. Here’s a few more issues why we see few women as authors on palaeontological papers. Again, note that I am mostly only talking about within-science things (1st semester of uni on). The myriad of problems outside science are another matter.

1) Women are seen as “incapable” by those in charge. Yes, totally ridiculous, but we do still have men in positions that decide on the careers of young scientists who think women are less capable then men, at field work, intellectually, stamina-wise, etc. I think I do not have to comment on that.

2) Some women are less good at public speaking than men. That, sadly, is in part caused by biological differences: higher voices carry less well than deeper ones, or if they carry as well they often sound shrill. Also, they often sound shrill over a microphone. Obviously, how a sound system or the acoustics in a conference hall influence your voice has nothing whatsoever to do with your abilities as a scientist, but sadly it can have something to do with your career. If people in the back of the hall can’t hear you, if they cringe at the sound of your voice, your chances of a plum position with them have just taken a beating. Utterly, totally unfair! Many career coaches offer training on this issue for business women, because you can quickly learn how to speak well in front of a big audience. Why are there no such offers at universities for female students?

Partly, this problem is also caused by girls being not-encouraged or even actively discouraged from speaking in front of groups in schools, even by some female teachers. AAARGH!!!!! Why do we raise girls to think but shut up????

3) Women are seen as sex objects, and thus discounted as “real persons” and thus researchers. No comment on that needed! There’s a stupid joke: “if you do not have a doc at 30 you need to make it yourself” (it works better in German) that perfectly captures this horrible attitude.

4) Women are seen as obstacles for a professor’s career, because they “will drop out to have children”. Admittedly, if you have a time-limited grant it can be a real problem to have a post-doc working for you who goes off for maternity leave just when she has learned enough to do the job at hand. This can kill a project. But AGAIN: we need to re-structure funding options, not force women out of science!

5) and then there are millions of “small things”, like the fact that professors tend to contact men who dropped out of a PhD on average 7 times as often as they contact women, resulting in a far smaller percentage of women finishing their PhDs after a break (from a study in the late 90s in Germany, IIRC). Or that women get “talked over” in meetings by (usually) men – utterly impolite and stupid.

My limited experience – but considering that palaeontology is a fairly small field my sample may well be close to representative – my experience is that women are on average as good as men at practically all tasks (and where they are on average(!) not as good it is usually a matter of lifting heavy stuff, which can easily be fixed by having an additional person help – where’s the problem?). That’s pretty telling, because it shows that women apparently perform equally well under worse circumstance – does that mean they would really be better if we didn’t keep them from exploiting their full potential? Women who quit science often do so because of within-science or society-caused discrimination, whereas men usually quit science to earn more money. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Let’s all try to fix this, let’s push for equal opportunities for all wherever we can!

(there, I finished a rant on a positive note!)

About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy
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6 Responses to More on women in palaeontology

  1. palaeosam says:

    Further to point #4: we need to raise awareness that it is not always the woman who takes leave after birth. Many men take extended paternity leave to look after the child in the first few months, though not as many as would probably wish to because the same people who decide whether they can have leave for this reason are the same people who decided not to hire a woman for the job in case this happened.

  2. I remember seeing somewhere that it’s very much a pyramid; numbers of PhDs are nearly equal, but the further and further up the career path there are increasingly less women, which the author suggested might imply that it is more that men are more willing to put themselves through the years of job insecurity and riskiness that the post doc wilderness years often entail than women – for whatever reason. Women are more likely to follow their husband for that golden overseas job rather than vice versa too.

    If you want a really, really comprehensive discussion of the issue, check out this debate at nature . Most contributors seem to agree that the major issue isn’t one of active discrimination against women, though this may undeniably be occuring; the main problem is that we have an ingrained culture of men doing science, particularly in certain disciplines. Which is why it’s a shame that the EU cocked up their “Science: it’s a girl thing” campaign.

  3. Jack says:

    Another factor I see is that men are more likely to form camaraderie (and therefore more connections and more opportunities) with other men; an older male professor and a younger man look like master-apprentice but an older male professor and younger woman could look suspicious.

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