The Lack of Women in Science Leadership

May 23, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth in Research |

Women have made significant strides in science this past century.  We now make up a majority of PhD graduates in scientific disciplines, and have increased representation in STEM-related fields.

And yet, women remain under-represented in positions of scientific leadership.  Women comprise a minority of tenured professorships in STEM fields, receiving only 25% of NIH-sponsored faculty awards. A disproportionate share of women are “dropping out” of academic careers before even attaining tenure, missing out on faculty roles of significant contribution.

The lack of women can be traced to a litany of issues of institutional or societal origin, though none were so prominent in my experience as the lack of support for women in maternal care. As a postdoctoral scholar myself, I noticed many of my female colleagues dropping out of a tenure track due to the high demands of combined lab work and childcare.

A recent report from AmericanProgress.org cites numerous data points to similar effect. Faculty workweeks average 50 hours per week, and yet women with children report over 100 hours per week in combined activity. Worsening matters is that tenure-track jobs often overlap with a woman’s reproductive years, and over 40% of universities offer ad hoc or no paid leave for maternity care.  Women are inevitably pushed to choose between a career in the lab vs. at home.

The resultant “drop-out” rates are even more apparent. Married women with children are reported 35% less likely than their male colleagues to enter a tenure-track after PhD, and 27% less likely to achieve tenure after a tenure-track job. Single women, however, are just as successful as men with children in achieving tenure-track jobs.

Such figures were part of the reason I co-founded Science Exchange. In creating a platform for scientists to outsource experiments, I felt woman scientists would be able to find a unique outlet for maintaining work-life balance. Women can use the platform to outsource the repetitive and time-intensive aspects of labwork, and reduce their average 100 hour work-weeks. They can spend more time raising children from home, while designing experiments, analyzing data, and even writing grants through Science Exchange online.

On the funding side, women scientists are presented with an increasing array of options as well. The Embark Program has been operating to help professional women build independent grant revenue through research collaborations. The Elsevier Foundation’s New Scholars Program is also supporting projects to help mid-career women scientists balance family and academic responsibilities.

Through foundational and online support, women scientists could in effect operate at capacities on par with, or perhaps better than, their off-line cohorts. The trade-off between work and childcare could be diminished, and the drop-out rate for tenure-track positions reduced.  Women may then see their places in academic leadership grow, through increased foundational support and utilization of asynchronous online platforms like Science Exchange.

About the author

Elizabeth Iorns is Co-Founder & CEO of Science Exchange. Elizabeth conceived the idea for Science Exchange while an Assistant Professor at the University of Miami and as CEO she drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth. She is passionate about creating a new way to foster scientific collaboration that will break down existing silos, democratize access to scientific expertise and accelerate the speed of scientific discovery. Elizabeth has a B.S. in Biomedical Science from the University of Auckland, a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and conducted postdoctoral research in Cancer Biology from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine where her research focused on identifying mechanisms of breast cancer development and progression.

 

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