The British physicist Athene Donald tell about her new book Not just for the boys, why we need more women in science
In this interview, Athene Donald, a prominent scientist and author, discusses the persistent challenges faced by women in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Benjamin Thompson, the interviewer, delves into the topics covered in her book, including the root causes behind the gender imbalance in STEM fields and the societal perceptions that contribute to it.
Donald explains her decision to start her book with the chapter titled “What’s the Problem?” She clarifies that many people assume gender disparities in STEM have already been addressed, but in reality, the issues persist. She acknowledges that progress has been slow in fields like physics, engineering, and computing, with gender representation often varying across different STEM disciplines and countries.
The conversation touches on several critical issues, including the challenges women face at various career stages. Donald highlights the biases present in scientific publishing and the job application process, where women are often subjected to slower peer review processes and offered lower salaries despite having equal qualifications.
The interview also addresses the lack of diverse representation in science, which can impact the quality of research and innovation. Donald cites studies that indicate that diverse teams produce more innovative work, making a compelling case for the importance of fostering a diverse scientific workforce.
Contributions lost in history
The interview explores the historical aspects of women’s contributions to science, acknowledging the limited opportunities available to them. Donald provides an example of Mary Astell, a philosopher and early feminist, whose marginalia on scientific texts were discovered later, shedding light on the contributions of women that may have been lost to history.
Donald emphasizes the need for systemic change in education and academia. She stresses the importance of early exposure to diverse subjects and the removal of gender stereotypes in educational settings. She also calls for men to recognize and address their biases and contribute to creating an inclusive environment.
Harassment is not from the past
The interview touches on the pervasive issues of harassment and discrimination that women face in science. Donald laments the tolerance of bad behavior in academic institutions, suggesting that industry tends to handle such issues more effectively.
The conversation ends with Donald suggesting practical steps that can be taken to improve the situation. She highlights the importance of mentorship, peer support, and active involvement in committees to ensure equitable representation and fair treatment for women in science. Donald envisions a future where the best minds, regardless of gender, contribute to science, resulting in more effective problem-solving and innovation.