Women in Science – Ecology Virtual Conference / November 4th-6th, 2020

This blogpost was one of the many recommendations, tools, and resources highlighted from the recent conference taking place over three day addressing issues of diversity and equality in academia. The conference explored individual experiences of challenges as researchers, the research and data on equality, and how scientific bodies can work to make scholarly working life more equitable. Talks and the programme can be found here. @EcologyWis

Let us imagine a future for science in which everyone has equal opportunities to enter, contribute and progress without prejudice or harm; regardless  of gender, race, ideology and sexual orientation. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science reminds us each year that there is still a long way to go for effective equality in science.

This was made clear in the latest report Women Researchers 2019 from the CSIC’s commission on women and science, and that of Female Scientists in Figures from the Ministry of Science and Innovation and Universities.

The solution is not simple and requires a reform of the institutions and the social and educational system. As individuals we cannot change that, but we can do our part and apply the gender lens to our daily research activities.

For this reason I propose a ten-point list of measures for more inclusive and diverse laboratories:

1. Neutral and inclusive job advertisements

The use of biased language in job offers promotes gender inequality. For example, the use of qualifiers associated with the masculine such as “competitive”, “dominate” and “leader” tends to discourage women, who feel that they do not belong. So does overconfidence in language: “excellent candidates”, “intelligent”, “independent”.

There are tools to evaluate and correct the language of job offers. For example, with alternatives such as “sensitive”, “capacity for group work” and “collaborative person”. This is the aim of applications such as Textio and Gender-Decoder.

In addition to non-aggressive and stereotype-free language, content is important. There are easy and simple rules in this regard such as avoiding unnecessary requirements, writing clearly and concisely, and making clear the purpose and values of the group.

2. Working interviews without gender bias

In any selection process, in addition to unconscious bias, there are conscious prejudices, stereotypes and sexist attitudes that are standardised and affect recruitment and promotion to the detriment of women.

For a job interview to be balanced requires preparation and awareness. At the institutional level, it is recommended to audit the selection processes. Ideally, the interviewer should be trained in gender to be able to carry out a blind recruitment, through a request that does not identify the gender in order to minimize the risk of bias against the applicants.

3. Writing unbiased letters of recommendation

When a person asks for a letter of recommendation it is because they believe that what we have to say about them will help them get that job or scholarship. But what we say and how we say it, often without meaning to, can be detrimental, whether it is men or women who recommend.

Before writing it is useful to make use of these recommendations. If it is already written, there is still time to correct it with this gender calculator. Content is again important: one way to avoid bias is to focus on achievements, facts and their impact, rather than overusing qualifiers.

4. Organising meetings with parity

At what time we schedule meetings, giving the floor actively and on a rotating basis, and being equitable in treatment and recognition are attitudes that seem obvious, but are not always applied in the laboratories. Little by little they generate an unequal and discriminatory environment.

If we have to organise a conference or meeting, let us use criteria of parity in the selection of speakers and moderators.

Something as simple as not promoting panels exclusively of men (manels) is an indispensable and increasingly frequent step.

As opposed to the argument that “there are no women scientists”, there are numerous database initiatives that seek to give visibility to women women researchers. For example, 500womenscientists, that of AMIT and our Women in Malaria.

5. Avoiding bias takes practice

Everyone has unconscious biases. It is a type of mental strategy that helps us to anticipate and make decisions based on our past experience. These automatic decisions do not necessarily have to be the right ones: they tend to repeat patterns and favour people similar to us.

As we are in a patriarchal system, these biases end up discriminating against women. The way to avoid this is to be aware of it and actively combat it. There are resources applied to science, such as this one from the British Royal Society, which are worth reviewing every time we have to evaluate a curriculum, a project or take part in a tribunal.

6. The utility of peer tutoring

Peer-mentoring is an activity that aims to establish a supportive and guiding relationship between two or more people, who share knowledge and experiences that serve as mutual learning.

It is very effective between people who are at the same moment of their professional career or who belong to the same discriminated or minority group, with few references. The secret of the success of this activity is the generation of empathy and also the feeling that the person is not alone and that their problems are shared by others and have a solution.

7. Leadership training

Having female leadership references is critical in the future professional development of both men and women, and contributes to higher quality science as indicated by studies.

Specific staff training can help to provide this vision of science. Also in partnerships, by creating a more diverse and inclusive network.

8. Equity in responsibilities, promotions and awards

It is important to assign responsibilities and attribute tasks equally. For example, on a rotating basis.

9. Zero tolerance against harassment

We must fight against sexist language, macho behaviour among colleagues and gender stereotypes in our immediate environment. Of course, we must report  any violence against women.

10. Demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion

It is necessary to promote and participate in activities in favour of equality, such as International Women’s Day. Also participate and support the creation of equality groups and commissions in research centres.

There will be those who, when reading these rules, may think that in their laboratory and in their centre there is no discrimination and no barriers for women. This different perception is very common. It is therefore useful to ask yourself a number of questions: Who takes notes and leads the meetings? Who intervenes more frequently? Who is in charge of the basic maintenance of the laboratory? Are the adjectives we use to refer to a male and female researcher the same?

It is not neutral who takes on each role, nor is the language we use, nor the treatment. Gender equality is not only related to the numerical balance between men and women. Conditions and context must also be created so that each person can develop freely, confidently and as equals.

Whether we are leaders of a research group or part of it, we can all do our part.

Photo by Marta Branco from Pexels

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

February 9, 2020

Cite this version as: Gómez-Díaz, Elena. “Ten Measures for a More Violet Laboratory.” Generation Research, 2020. https://doi.org/10.25815/G020-ZC06.