Special issue in Nature on gender bias!

Cover image of the March 7 issue of Nature. Image by Viktor Koen.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Nature’s most recent issue is focused on the gender gap in the sciences. Just this past November, Nature finally copped to the fact that they have some serious work of their own to do on fighting sexism. While Nature’s hiring practices for reporters and editors of their news content is sound (54% women), they were lacking in other areas: only 14% of referees for Nature publications are women and only 18% of researchers profiled in their “News and Views” section in 2011 and 2012 were women. While they rightly assert that this is most likely due to subconscious factors (even scientists are biased against women), they also realized that this doesn’t let them off the hook.

The March 7, 2013 issue features great content all about the issues women scientists face and what can and should be done to address the problem.

I was especially inspired by the stories of female scientists who are just starting their labs, with babies in tow (From the frontline: 30 something science). However, with the exception of the final story, the fathers of those children were not prominently featured. This is truly sad, and I believe, is part of the crux of the whole problem.

I think the most important part of finally closing the gender gap in the sciences–or any other discipline for that matter–is society recognizing that raising children is not the sole responsibility of the mother. If having children early in your career is potentially damaging to that career, then that should also be true for men, no? Since men have been raising families and succeeding in their careers for ages, why do we as a society expect anything to be different for women? Every couple (or single parent) is unique, and faces unique challenges in balancing work and home life. And not every woman (even every married woman) necessarily wants to have children.

Both mothers and fathers have been making more time for their families in recent years, and studies show that men want to be able to spend more time with their kids. Making careers, like tenure-track science, family un-friendly is harmful to both women and men. Everyone needs work-life balance, especially parents. But putting the focus on mothers means that they are more likely the ones that end up sacrificing their careers and men more often end up sacrificing their family time.

Let’s not make women synonymous with families. Let’s start seeing families as a unit, a unit that includes men, too. Maybe then we can hope to finally put an end to gender bias in the workplace.

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