Science, mothers and fathers

This article is a rarity in journalistic writing on women’s under-representation. Although it points to maternal caregiving responsiblities as a key factor– which is not at all a rarity– it takes that extra step of remembering that it’s possible for men to have caregiving responsibilities as well.

Instead of obsessing over mother-scientists, universities should strive to create an atmosphere that encourages their male scientists to be active fathers. Only then will both genders be equally compelled to confront the family-work balance issue that right now rests too squarely on the shoulders of women.

Some suggestions: Pay female scientists as much as their male counterparts, so that when scientist couples plan for a family, the woman isn’t automatically compelled to ditch her career simply because she earns less and he earns more. Have paternity leave on par with maternity leave; if you’re going to stop the tenure clock for child rearing, extend that offer to new fathers as well as new mothers.

(Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

4 thoughts on “Science, mothers and fathers

  1. I agree that the idea of shared parenting is a very welcome addition to the usual take. I also love her point that paying women as much as men would make a difference.

    I am concerned, however, that she downplays factors other than mothering. (See quote below.) Cognitive psychology, linguistics and biology are all fields where women are doing significantly better than they are in chemistry, maths, physics and engineering. But these fields are as demanding, competitive, ruthless, etc.

    I also question whether the culture of working 24/7 produces the best science. I just don’t know, but there are lots of reasons for thinking that there might be problems.

    Last week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported that family obligations (read: child rearing) are still pushing young female researchers out of science. The findings build on a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report from earlier this year that also dissected the biases against women in science, but concluded that much progress was being made. Taken together, the two studies suggest that the stumbling block for women researchers is not being a woman but being a mother.

  2. Speaking of linguistics and biology, the italicized sentence contains its own contradiction: “not being a woman but being a mother.” Where mothers and fathers are both regarded simply as parents, it seems more likely that they will be able to share that role along with others. Anecdotally not statistically, this appears to be a growingly frequent arrangement in software, perhaps because in that profession it is more feasible to work at home.

  3. Agreed– with both of you. For some reason I was in the mood to pull out strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. (Sadly for my students, I wasn’t doing any marking that day.)

  4. I’m fine with the positive, and I’m sorry to get negative. But I started to worry about people who might go to the article and conclude that bias against women scientists is a thing of the past.

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