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Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines face a gender gap that has been exacerbated during COVID-19.
Drawing on research carried out by the Women in Supramolecular Chemistry (WISC) network, this essential book sets out the extent to which women working in STEM face inequality and discrimination. The authors use approaches more commonly associated with social sciences, such as creative and reflective research methods, to shed light on the human experiences lying behind scientific research. They share fictional vignettes drawn from research findings to illustrate the challenges faced by women working in science today. Additionally, they show how this approach helps make sense of difficult personal experiences and to create a culture of change.
Offering a path forward to inclusivity and diversity, this book is crucial reading for anyone working in STEM.
Introductions commonly set the scene for a book, and let the reader know what they can look forward to, what will be included in the content, what the book is and who it is aimed at. Before starting that more conventional introduction, however, first we want to set out what this book is not. This book is not an account of how hard women and other marginalised groups have it in science. It does not contain victim stories or whistleblowing from women in supramolecular chemistry who have an axe to grind and want to call out all the men who have been mean to them. We should note at this point that in this chapter we do discuss sexual harassment and this may be distressing for those who have experienced it. We recognise that whistleblowing is a courageous act done often by those who have been subjected to trauma, and we respect, support, and thank all those who share their often difficult and traumatic stories. However, we wanted to go about things differently.
WISC has created a community and place in which stories and experiences can be shared, it has given women the means and tools to do this from an embodied perspective through autoethnography and other reflexive, qualitative approaches. This chapter sets out what autoethnography and embodiment are, why they are important in the context of STEM, how they are usually missing in other research, and why this is a problem. It considers the structural barriers that are specific to STEM, and are prevalent within the culture that keeps these stories hidden.
This chapter contextualises what it is to build an academic identity as a woman or other marginalised gender in STEM, and the particular challenges faced by these individuals. In the chemical sciences, the progression and retention of marginalised groups including women is an issue, and the barriers they face are intersectional. We consider academic identity – that is, what it means to be an academic and to succeed in academia – and the pressures faced by early-career academics in general. We discuss the concept of wellbeing, in the context of acceleration and overwork in neoliberal academia before turning to the particular barriers faced by women and mothers (and those with caring responsibilities). Finally, we explore leaving academia, and options open to those with a science PhD.
This chapter looks at the experiences of academic work from an intersectional feminist perspective, including the context of traditional gender boundaries. These are often compounded for women in science as they take on or are asked to provide additional equality, diversity, and inclusion support either formally or informally through student support and the lack of recognition for this work. We consider marginalisation in academia, and the casual sexism and harassment that minorities may face. The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pressure for many academics. In looking at data that includes undergraduate numbers, postgraduate numbers, and progression through the postdoctoral system and on to senior roles internationally for those who are marginalised, we consider aspects that contribute to progression, such as bias in publishing, citations, funders, and processes such as networking, winning funding, and securing tenure (in the US). We also consider how these might be affected by intersecting barriers such as gender, disability, and race.
This chapter focuses in on the field of supramolecular chemistry. It gives an overview of the kind of interdisciplinary STEM research it encompasses, as well as the history and background to WISC. WISC was launched in November 2019, and aims to support women and those who are marginalised to progress within supramolecular chemistry through creating a sense of community and kinship. WISC’s ethos is to be area-specific, and to embed high-quality qualitative and social science research approaches to research with and not on scientists.
This chapter shares some of the stories told within the autoethnography group, bringing these rarely heard voices to light through a focus on embodiment. The images and words were shared in meetings, emails, or instant messages. The chapter does not discuss these stories with references or citations to wider literature as with the other chapters. Instead, these stories are presented as snapshots of the lives of the women who took part in these studies and they are shared with each individual’s consent.
This final chapter looks to the future, and discusses the impacts of participating in this work for those involved. To date, everyone who has taken an active role in WISC has seen an increase in research outputs, grant successes, or career progression that is enabling them to achieve greater things within the field of supramolecular chemistry and beyond.