To me female role models and mentors in STEM are essential. Without a female role model I would not be in STEM today. My first role model and mentor going into science was my mother who was also working in a laboratory and sparked my interest in research. In addition to that, throughout my education and now during my PhD I encountered many females as mentors that were truly inspiring.
These female mentors can specifically give you an insight how it is to start a family or maneuvering maternity leave. You will get honest advice to empower you. But also regarding their science, you aspire to become an equally great scientist like them down the line. Especially for me as a female PhD student, female mentors are very important, not only as postdocs but also when you see females in leading positions. This will give you inspiration for the future and set your long term goals as you can see that everything is possible.
Currently there is a great deal of momentum in promoting women in research. However, the gender gap in salaries, promotions, or percentage of women in higher positions are concerning and need to be addressed at every level. In our attempts to promote gender equality in science, we should be very careful not to undermine the achievements of the women scientists we are supporting. We must advocate their accomplishments and remember that they are where they are because of those achievements.
I think everyone greatly benefits from having a supportive mentor, who believes in your abilities and genuinely cares about advancing your professional development. If this is someone, who faced similar challenges and can offer experience and guidance on how to master these issues, that is even more helpful. Therefore, I think it is important for women to see other women in leading scientific positions as role models and mentors.
In my eyes, choice of research topic, institutions, and mentors are most important issues for young scientists and are not connected to gender, but very similar for men and women. The major factor where I have seen more impact on female compared to male scientists is the role of the partner in private life.
I think it is important to acknowledge that science is not conducted in a vacuum and, as such, it does reflect biases that persist in our society. As a profession where “genius”, “charisma” or “leadership” are all highly valued characteristics, female scientists (as well as other underrepresented groups) are, of course, facing deep rooted stereotypes – why?
Because sociological studies consistently show that there is a strong bias towards picturing a man when we imagine a person possessing any of these qualities (even more so, when we picture them together!).
So, I think one of the most important things to acknowledge is that while we are scientists and like to perceive ourselves as objective, data-driven individuals, we are not rational machines and, as such, we share many of these biases, even if implicitly (in fact, it was shown that the more you tend to perceive yourself as objective, the more likely you are to behave in sexist/discriminatory ways).
So, I think it is very important that all scientists (and certainly those who sit on hiring committees, grant panels or head institutions), are well informed of the statistics regarding inequality (gender or others), have a healthy dose of skepticism about their own impartiality and actively value diversity (it’s both the right and the smart thing to do!).
I do think that some of these changes are ongoing, but, of course, we should not relax and just wait for them to arrive eventually, we all must take an active role.
An effective mentorship holds the key to attract and promote women to STEM fields, igniting their inner passion for STEM while leveraging their empowerment to become future mentors. Positively reinforcing this loop would help to assure the constant development of women in STEM.
We have come a long way in the past decades in terms of gender balance in science, but progress seems to be stalling. There are many reasons for this, but two important ones come to mind. One is that some people, including some women, consider that we have already done enough, and equality is just a matter of time. However, despite many years of active policies, the percentage of women in managing positions in research (both in academia and industry) remains very low, with little progress, if any, in the past decade.
We should be much more aware of this and realize that for things to truly change we will all need to make an active effort. The second one is the lack of diversity of female role models. Lack of diversity is of course a general problem. But since there are few women in managing/directorial positions, the number of women in high rank positions coming from ethnic minorities or diverse social backgrounds, for instance, is extremely low. Supporting and celebrating more the few examples out there could be beneficial, but we should be careful not to add an extra burden when asking them to campaign for equity and diversity in research. It is also important that we diversify the types of qualities we look for when hiring at all levels, but specially for group leaders and managerial roles. Inequality has very deep roots in both science and our society as a whole, and not enough is being done to address this. Simply being aware is the first step towards bringing about change. And we can all, men and women together, do our part to improve things.