Are women with kids struggling more under lockdown?

Let’s be clear about this: a lot of people are struggling during these trying times, and for a variety of reasons. Many people worry about the health and wellbeing of themselves or their loved ones, about keeping their jobs, and about paying their bills.

I have a permanent position in academia, which means that I am in the very fortunate position of not having to worry about losing my job. Universities might be hit in the long term, but there are little immediate consequences of the corona crisis for their economic viability.

But academia is infamous for its high workload. A recent survey under Dutch academics indicated that they work on average 36% more than their contractual hours a week. It’s also known for its persistent bias against women. Only 23% of Dutch full professors are female (not to speak of women of colour!). In addition, there is a motherhood penalty: women who have children are disadvantaged in their career even more than those that don’t have children, while men that have children are not disadvantaged at all. Continue reading

Maar in Nederland hebben vrouwen toch al láng gelijke kansen?

Ik heb veel nagedacht over de reacties deze week op het bericht dat de TU Eindhoven alle vacatures een half jaar lang alleen maar voor vrouwen openstelt. Die reacties zijn grofweg onder te verdelen in drie types:

  1. De witte mannen die dit discriminatie vinden. “Je moet gewoon de beste kandidaat aannemen, wat er tussen je benen zit doet er niet toe”, en “Dus we moeten discriminatie oplossen met discriminatie?”, tot “Dit is ook gewoon discriminatie voor vrouwen”
  2. De vrouwen die geen ‘excuustruus’ willen zijn. “Ja maar, je wilt toch niet aangenomen worden als tweede keus?!” Dit argument hoor ik ook vaak bij mannen, die bezorgd zijn over deze vrouwen die als tweede keus aangenomen worden, en zelf nóóóit zo aangenomen zouden willen worden.

Linda Duits heeft over deze reacties al een zeer sterk artikel geschreven in Folia. Kort samengevat: in de wetenschap moeten vrouwen bijna tweemaal zo hard werken als mannen voor dezelfde baan of hetzelfde salaris, vanwege allerlei structurele (maar grotendeels impliciete) obstakels. Ik zal hier nog een aantal concrete, recente voorbeelden geven:

Dit is slechts een greep uit de lange lijst van voorbeelden waaruit blijkt dat de wetenschap, nog steeds, een zelf-instandhoudend mannenbolwerk is. Continue reading

Do we need quota for men in science?

Last week, I spoke at the L’Oreal Foundation’s breakfast debate curated by the New York Times. This was an Oxford Style debate, with two teams of three – one of the teams argued against, and one of the teams argued for the motion “This house believes that there should be quota for men in science”. I was on Team For, together with Stephen Frost and Marina Kvaskoff; Kaisa Snellman, Emma Liu and Rose Mutiso were Team Against.

It was a fantastic and empowering event (and I got to go to Paris, wear nice clothes, and eat nice food). The purpose of the debate was not so much the debate itself, but rather keeping this conversation going and coming up with creative solutions of how to increase the representation of women in science – something we all agreed on is necessary. Continue reading

The reality of maternity leave.

It has been very quiet here again, because I’ve been on maternity leave for the past six months. And I have struggled to get any work done, let alone write a blog post.

Which is why is wasn’t particularly amused when I read this article in The Guardian, which compares maternity leave with a sabbatical, and gives the impression that you can catch up with the literature and do some deep thinking, while your perfect baby either sleeps or quietly plays on the floor.

So, let me tell you something about how I experienced my maternity leave, and how I feel about maternity leave in general. Continue reading

Soil science. A man’s world?

I am a female soil scientist (a soil ecologist, more specifically). And while traditionally the field of soil science has been dominated by men, I’d like to think that women are catching up. Certainly in the labs where I have worked in the last 10 years, women have dominated the postdoc and PhD positions, although this trend yet has to reach the more senior, permanent academic posts. (Unfortunately, there are many reasons why it might not.)

And I couldn’t help but notice that in a recent NERC strategic call for soil science grants (within the larger Soil Security and SARISA programmes), all eight grants that were awarded had male principal investigators. (And that is on top of the fact that all other projects in these two programmes, which were funded about two years ago, are also led by men.)

And because of this traditional male domination of soil science, I thought that maybe, just maybe, and hopefully (in a way), this might just be a true representation of the gender balance of the applications, and of the wider UK soil science community.

So I inquired. And these are the numbers.

Out of 34 applications, 11 were led by female principal investigators – which means that grants led by women made up a reasonably healthy 32% of all grants submitted. And this number is actually representative of the gender balance of the members of the British Society of Soil Science (which assume to be a representation of the UK soil science community as a whole): women make up 30% of its members.

But none of these applications led by women were successful in getting funded. While the female submission rate was 32%, the success rate of female applications was 0%. And while it is well known that grants submitted by women often have lower success rates, this is a pretty low number. I made a graph to visualise it for you, just in case it wasn’t clear yet.

soil-security-small-grants

The number of applications and the number of grants awarded in the latest round of Soil Security small grants (between £150k and £250k), split for male and female principal investigators.

Continue reading

On gender bias in research funding

I have never, in any way, in any shape or form, experienced sexism in my career. I have never though that I could not do something because I am a woman. In primary school and high school, never once made anyone a distinction between boys and girls and their abilities, or future career aspirations. At university, I never gave the fact that I am a woman any thought. And during my PhD and postdoc, OK, maybe I started thinking about having children at some point, and maybe that seemed complicated (I now know that it is certainly not straightforward). But never, never, have I experienced any form of harassment, or bias, or being disadvantaged, or not being taken seriously, because of my gender. Despite my gender, I am generally doing quite well in my career.

But it might be that I am, unknowingly, disadvantaged in receiving the research grants that I am applying for.

But last year, the BBSRC, who fund my research, published a report ‘Towards a better understanding of issues affecting grant applications and success rates by female academics’. This report clearly shows not only that fewer women apply for BBSRC research funding, but also that their success rate is lower than that of male applicants. This is particularly the case with the applications for strategic LOLA (longer larger) grants, which are considered to be more senior grants. A notable exception are the fellowships, which are aimed early career scientists (and of which I am a recipient), in which female applicants are more successful.

Then, a couple of days ago, I read an article that essentially shows the same trend for NIH grants. While there was no difference in funding rates for start-up grant applications, when women applied for grant renewals, they received lower scores than men. This was despite the fact that these grant applications were more likely to receive praise in their written feedback from the panel.

Triggered by these two reports, I decided to have closer look at the gender balance of research grants of some other funders – particularly the ones that I might apply for.  Continue reading

I’m quite busy

I have been neglecting my blog. I have done this in the past, but it’s never been this bad. I wrote my last post in December 2014. What has changed then? Well, it’s simple. I am a mother now.

What I would really like to do here is write about soil food webs, soil microbial communities, plant communities, roots, and how these all interact under changing environmental conditions, like land use change or climate change. I never wanted this blog to be one about ‘issues’, like sexism in academia, the struggles of getting a permanent position, long working hours, women in science, equal pay, …… Not that I don’t care about these issues, but there are enough people out there that are much better at discussing these then I am.

But, I always intended this blog to also be partly about my personal experiences as an early career ecologist working abroad. And I feel like I am combining quite a few experiences at the moment! Continue reading