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Where are all the women in science?

Last year, The New York Times published an important article asking “Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?”. If you haven’t read it then, go ahead and read it (I’m even keeping my post extra short today, so you can go and read this post – go figure!).

I don’t have the data of USFQ, where I spend most of my time during the year, but I found the data of TU Delft for 2012:

In this graph, the following abbreviations are used:
HL = hoogleraar = full professor
UHD = universitair hoofd docent = associate professor
UD = universitait docent = assistant professor
OWP = overig wetenschappelijke personeel = other research staff
PROM = promovendi = PhD students

And, as you can guess, the blue share are the male scientists, and the turquoise ones are the female scientists.

As I discussed before, the Netherlands have one of the lowest ratios of female professors in Europe. “Why?” is an important question here – with all the challenges we are facing, we need all hands and brains on deck in science to serve society, in my opinion.

I don’t have the answers to this question, nor a solution on how to change this skewed statistic. But in the meantime, I’d like to nudge all female scientists out there and invite them to lean in, and openly ask why we are so few.

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This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. I'm not a scientist but this is a very good question. Most people in society feel that men succeed better than women. I don't believe that at all. I'd love to hear women scientist's speak about this.

  2. I think that there are multiple issues at play here. Firstly, we need to have female role models available and accessible to our young girls so that they can fully understand what is achievable. There also needs to be stronger mentoring and connections between women tracking into STEM fields– at all levels. Finally we need to develop strategies to retain STEM professionals with advanced degrees (i.e. for example developing policies that allow them to balance family and work better).

  3. I am a 30 yrs old female physics post-doc. There are many factors why women don't choose to start a PhD in the first place; but if they do gain a PhD, then from my point of view, incompatibility of academic career with having family is a huge problem. How do you renconcile current system of having short term contracts in your 30s and the pressure in tenure track-like positions with having a baby?

  4. Great question – I'll reply that in a future Q&A post. But the short answer is: as of now, I really don't know, I've just been postponing having a family and not even considering starting a family because I have no idea how I'd combine it all…

  5. Hi Eva, I have had the discussion a couple of times in the past. It might be that the absence of female role models plays a role for some female students in terms of career choice. But I don't think it is an important role, because in reality most of my friends don't feel like that. I also think that you can combine family and kids if you have the support from the family and the institution. These two aspects are the most favoured aspects in this discussion, but I think there is another crucial element: the partner. Often the (male) partner is older and further in his career than the female partner. Combined with the fact that female professionals are more flexible in the job hunt than males you can see the following: He finishes his postdoc and she finishes her PhD. They move to his next postdoc or tenure track locality and she looks for something to earn money (which is often not in the field she was trained for). And out of the game she is. This is a simple example, but I think we loose more female professionals due to that that the lack of role models.

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