A new biological science practices study in Proceedings B identifies the consistent challenges faced by caregivers as a key driver of the gender gap in academia. This research helps to simplify the complex issue of gender inequity in science and provide achievable solutions, based around funding practices, to retain gender diversity. We recently spoke to authors Stephanie Meirmans, Dunja Lamatsch and Maurine Neiman, who told us more.
Summary of the paper
Many fewer women than men hold senior academic positions. Our goal is to identify effective and feasible solutions to this widely recognised problem. We begin by providing an in-depth assessment of the drivers of this gender inequity. The ‘leaky pipeline’ is typically seen as a complex and multifactorial phenomenon. In our synthesis of existing data, however, we provide multiple lines of evidence highlighting caregiving as a main factor underlying the absence of women at higher levels of academia. We then argue that we can use this insight to restructure critical elements of funding practices, which are a key driver of academic success, to help retain caregivers in academic science. Such restructuring will increase representation and diversity, and improve scientific quality by keeping excellent scientists – whose skills are often further enhanced by caregiving – in academia.
How did the idea of the paper come about, and what made you submit to Proceedings B?
The idea for our paper originated in 2019, when Maurine was spending the summer as a guest professor at the University of Innsbruck, working with friend and collaborator Dunja, at the Research Institute for Limnology in Mondsee, Austria. Maurine invited her friend and long-term collaborator, Stephanie, to visit from the Netherlands for a few days to discuss common academic interests and to enjoy the beautiful Austrian lake country. During this visit, we soon started sharing our experiences as women and mothers in academia. At that stage, Stephanie was working on how competing for funding impacts scientific practice. She suggested co-authoring an article on funding practices and how they could be re-tailored to help caregivers. As two of us (Stephanie and Maurine) are also connected as editors at Proceedings B, we knew that the new Biological Sciences Practice section would be an ideal fit for our paper. Of course, the paper underwent the usual rigorous procedures of editorial assessment and peer reviewing before being accepted.
About the authors
Stephanie Meirmans has a background in biology and philosophy, and a long-term interest in gender studies. Most of her work can be characterized as doing ‘research on research’ with the goal to enhance scientific quality. Recently, she had a postdoc at the University of Amsterdam investigating how competing for funding impacts scientific practice. Right now, she is doing a postdoc investigating replication practices. She has three children.
Dunja Lamatsch is a senior scientist at the University of Innsbruck heading a research group focusing on asexual reproduction in fishes. For the university she teaches “gender research in science” and “women in STEM” to visualize the traditional and current, structural and symbolic barriers for women in science. Dunja is the single mother of one child.
Maurine Neiman is a professor in Biology at the University of Iowa, jointly appointed in the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. She is also the Provost Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Iowa. Maurine’s research interests are primarily focused on the maintenance of sexual reproduction, with a newer and expanding focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in science.
Illustration: Niek Meirmans.
Authors: Claus-Peter Stelzer (The authors: left to right – Stephanie Meirmans, Maurine Neiman, Dunja Lamatsch).