Women in Science (March 2015)

Last Thursday I went with Jody to a function organized by “Women at Sydney”. The speaker was Prof Jenny Martin, a very successful scientist who is also an adamant defender of women in science and that has had the courage to suggest new metrics for universities and professors.

The presentation was great, with some facts that I already knew but that Jody was blown away with. For example, did you know that there are more male called John in boards in Australian FTSE100 companies than there are women?  This is only one of the examples and I can tell that I am getting old (and grumpy), while some sections of the audience were laughing in outrage, I just wanted to scream, or run, or cry (or all of the above).

I graduated from my PhD in 2004 and came to Australia in 2005. It is now 2015 and it looks like not much has changed. One of Jenny’s recommendations in the end was to always assess “relative to opportunity”. But while quantifying the time used for maternity leave seems possible (apparently, ARC-DECRA now gives 2 extra years of research outputs per child), other opportunities lost for women are impossible to quantify. How do I quantify the opportunities I lost because, as a woman, I did not come across as cutting-edge as my male colleagues? How do I quantify the times that my CV has been examined with a BIAS? Those lost opportunities are impossible to quantify because it is likely that I never realised that I missed out!

Even with the “easily quantified” interruptions. As a parent, I have been thinking lately about the differences between now that I have to leave SHARP by 4:45pm and before, when I endeavoured to “leave early” because I wanted to “have a life outside work”. As a parent, if I need to finish something that should take me 10-15 minutes to finish, I cannot stay; that unfinished business must wait for tomorrow. On the next day, I need to turn the computer on, re-read what I wrote and then add that bit of work. What should have taken me 15 minutes to finish, it now takes me 30 minutes to 1 hour on the following day. Over two weeks, this translates into 5 to 10 hours of work that I spent catching up with unfinished business. I might have lost 1 day out of every two weeks just catching up! How do we quantify this? And this is an example for parents; other people might need to leave by a certain time SHARP because they are carers with no children involved.

New metrics are needed. No doubt about that. This university system was made by white straight middle-age men for white straight middle-age men. We need to give value (quantitatively) to other outputs that other workers (including women) bring to universities such as mentoring and caring. Yes, I know that it is difficult but putting an autonomous vehicle in a comet or in Mars must be harder and yet, we have done it. Let’s try!


Prof Jenny Martin giving her talk for "Women at Sydney" on March 2015. Teh slides shows new policies by NHRMC

Prof Jenny Martin giving her talk for “Women at Sydney” on March 2015

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