Athena Swan

Athena Swan promotes and supports the careers of women in Science, Engineering and Technology (STEM), and aims to address gender inequalities and imbalance in these disciplines and, in particular, the under-representation of women in senior roles.

Monday, 26 October 2015

American Scientist magazine - Taking the Long View on Sexism in Science

By Pat Shipman

My first lesson in the harmful power of sexual innuendo and stereotype was when I was a new PhD in the late 1970s. I wrote a manuscript for a book based on my thesis, an analysis of fossil animals in Kenya. A major academic publisher turned it down because it was “too controversial.” Stunned that this analysis could be seen as controversial, I pressed the editor for specifics. Eventually, he admitted that one reviewer had said that I could only have been awarded a PhD if I had slept with my committee.
A few years later, I discovered by accident that I was the lowest paid associate professor in my institution—the same year I began working as an assistant dean. My underpayment was so pronounced that the dean of the entire institution told my chair to give me an immediate 20 percent raise. A friend in administration, congratulating me, said she had once overheard my chair remark that he didn’t need to give me a raise because my husband was well paid. 
The culture of discrimination is far-reaching and ongoing. This year I learned of two public instances of overt sexual harassment directed at junior women that took place at a professional anthropology meeting in April. The accounts became a major topic of discussion in anthropology circles, so much so that I was able to check the stories with both subjects as well as with others who had witnessed the incidents. In one case, a senior male in the field apparently believed commenting on a junior colleague’s breasts was acceptable behavior and possibly even flattering. In the other, a senior male researcher invited a junior female colleague to sit on his lap.
The quick reactions to Hunt and Huang indicate progress—albeit of a reactive nature. But as long as the leadership in science is so overwhelmingly oblivious to discrimination, the fight to root out conscious and unconscious bias against women will continue.

Read the full article here.

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