Science has a news piece asking Is Motherhood the Biggest Reason for Academia’s Gender Imbalance?.
Well, I don’t know if it’s the biggest reason, but this issue is certainly huge – it has been an issue in every lab in which I have worked, and in ~90% of the labs that I observe around me. Which is why I don’t understand the pushback from some researchers quoted in the article, such as this:
“I think [the issue] does have merit, for a subset of women, during one part of their lives,” Nelson says. “However, it has not uncovered a problem which, when solved, will create an equal environment for women.” Nelson says it would be unfortunate if departments “were to invest millions of dollars in things like in-house daycare centers” only to find that such investments improved conditions for “a relatively small number of women.”
Seriously??? In-house child-care and other investments to help mothers in academic science would benefit only a relatively small number of women? Walk into just about any science department at any research university in this country, and you will quickly be disabused of the notion that this is an issue for a relatively small number of women.
Furthermore, academics outside of science need to realize that, while balancing motherhood and a career is difficult for anyone in academia, being tied to a very expensive lab which you are required to fund poses unique challenges for women in science fields. In the comments to the Science article:
Hang on, though. Tenure vs. motherhood is something *ALL* academics face, whether in STEM fields or in the humanities, social sciences, business, education, etc. Why would becoming a mother be *MORE* of an obstacle to women in STEM than, say, women seeking tenure in the humanities or social sciences? Why is it so much “easier” to be a female literature professor than a female physics professor?
From what I have seen, the difference between STEM and liberal arts is that in STEM, you are tied to a lab. My sister-in-law has a PhD in English and except for the few days she teaches a class, she can be anywhere in the world with a laptop and an internet connection. At least in biological sciences (where I am), this flexibility does not exist. I can’t take my ultra-centrifuge and confocal microscope home with me. That said, I have found one advantage to having a family while in grad school and during my post-doc (my husband is also a post-doc). The flexibility for hours is much greater than with other jobs. However, that flexibility does not make up for the trouble we had getting health insurance for our daughter when she was born. We were both grad students and not eligible for benefits for family. I will not name which top university I was at, but their suggestion was to go on Medicaid for her.