Completing the obstacle course
The reason there are fewer
women in the top jobs is because they are no longer in the running.
The phenomenon of the leaky pipeline is common in the world of science.
Many more women than men fail to stay the course. It is mainly from
the post-doctoral stage - the key moment when a career really begins,
and when it is important to raise funds and to be published to gain
the recognition of one's peers - that women leave the research field.
For those women who do continue,
professional recognition (with differences depending on the country,
university and/or discipline)
is far from automatic. A study carried out at the Italian National
Research Council looked at how long it took for researchers to reach
the top of their profession. It found that after ten years, 26%
of men had been promoted to the top grade - research director -
as against only 13% of women.
Who judges whom?
Throughout their careers, scientists are
forever being judged by other scientists. In obtaining grants, funds
and posts, researchers are subject to peer review. It is also between
themselves that they judge the respective quality of their publications
and their work. 'This kind of evaluation rests on the idea that
researchers are best qualified to judge their peers. However, it
also rather naively assumes that they are immune to the dominant
prejudices in society at large and are able to make perfectly objective
judgements,' states the Commission report.
Does this therefore mean that the under-representation
of women in scientific structures must be offset by means of a quotas
policy? Many believe such a mechanism is needed to ensure fairness
on scientific committees, evaluation panels and other decision-making
bodies. A number of Scandinavian countries respect a quota of at
least 40% per gender on their national bodies and committees.
Peer group partiality
Two Swedish scientists, Christine Wenneras
and Agnes Wold, recently set the cat among the pigeons with
their analysis of how the Swedish Medical Research Council
makes its evaluations. They noticed that a man was twice as
likely as a woman to obtain a post-doctoral post.
Men also received better appraisals for the same performance.
This revelation resulted in the replacement of the Council's
management team, the awarding of grants now depending on a
much more impartial evaluation. In the Netherlands, a study
on the same subject, this time looking at the Organisation
for Scientific Research and the Royal Academy of Sciences
(KNAW), revealed a much more balanced situation.