The gender pay gap and science.

If you google ‘gender pay gap’, these are the results you will see.

The second most searched term surrounding the gender pay gap has the word ‘myth’ in it. But unfortunately, it is not a myth. In fact, the gender pay gap has widened, meaning that women earn 15.7% less than men for full time employment in the UK. Furthermore, the gender pay gap gets wider in areas of employment that are mainly occupied by women, such as part-time employment or the public sector, where the gender pay gap stands at 35%.

But what about science?

Women are incredibly underrepresented in science, with over 80% of employees in science being male. Not only are women less likely to make a career in science, but they are also likely to be effected by the gender pay gap. In SET (Science, Engineering and Technology), the gender pay gap in 2008 was 12.6%. This is lower than some other occupations, but it is still a significant difference that should not be ignored because of this.

Generally in part-time work across the UK, the gender pay gap is incredibly high. But we see a large difference not only between the part-time wage of men and women in science, but a huge difference in the wages of part-time female employees and full-time female employees in science. Women in part-time employment in Science, Engineering and Technology will infect earn 21.8% less than women in SET working full-time. 

A lot of the contributing factors that exacerbate the gender pay gap are alive and kicking in science. As well as women earning less for the same job as men, there are other factors that worsen the gender pay gap. For example, women are more likely to work in lower paid jobs than men, women are less likely to continue their career after children, women are more likely to take a career break related to family and women are more likely to work part-time. These factors are related to a lot of social issues that surround gender stereotypes, such as women are assumed to be the primary carer and men are less likely to be expected to stop working after having children, as well as women being subconsciously taught from a young age to consider their future career based on their future family and are less likely to see themselves in highly paid careers and strive to achieve that. These are also seen in science and this can have tremendous effect on their career and wage. For example, women are more likely to have a career break for family reasons and then are left behind, meaning that STEM educated women enter an alternative workforce that does not utilise their skills and usually part-time. 

Science is not exempt from the issues that face women in the workforce, in fact not only does it echo these issues but sometimes it worsens them. And, for a community that strives to imagine the future, it  is crucial that it becomes aware of its issues with gender and addresses them, to make sure that the future it is imagining is best for all of us.


Why do we need STEMinism?

Women are incredibly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), not only this, but the women in these industries are also less likely to submit research funding proposals and are more likely to be left behind by career breaks. Furthermore, young girls are less likely to view themselves as capable of doing well in STEM subjects or viewing themselves as able to pursue a STEM career in the future.
Some people, including Richard Dawkins, are concerned about the integration of the women’s rights movement or feminism into science and readily question whether it even matters if there is under-representation of women in science or if the issues for women in STEM are addressed.
So why do we need STEMinism?
STEM industries are often thought of as a distant, separate medium, when they are in fact a form of business. The issues for women found in business are echoed within STEM, such as underrepresentation of women in higher paid jobs in these industries, issues surrounding the idea of women’s abilities within these industries and the gender pay gap. Moreover, most FTSE business boards have a very low proportion of women on them, and this is seen in FTSE STEM boards too. In fact, they have found that when a board has broader representation (having one women on the board), the profits of that business or company will increase dramatically. This is due to the diversifying of the experiences and opinions on the board, allowing alternative inputs and perspectives to be taken into account in dicision making. If fact, this profit increases even more if two women are featured on a company’s board, and even more so as you increase the diversity. Thus, due to the similar nature of STEM and the business world, the same effect would take place if diversity and equality was increased on FTSE STEM boards.
Furthermore, science as a community can often view itself as holding the correct view for the future, and (whether or not that is correct) we need to make sure that this view for the future includes everybody. So by increasing the representation of women and other marginalised groups on FTSE STEM boards and within STEM industries generally, we will be able to produce better science as it will bring in more perspectives and experience than those of the current majority (white, middle class men) and generate economic growth.
The potential for economic growth is high already for STEM, but this increases more as diversity is addressed. Current figures show that most women are employed below their skillset and their full potential is not being utilised in the economy. In fact, it is thought that if the UK started using women in the workforce to their full potential, this could generate £2.3 billion (2% GDP).
Thus, not only does diversity add to the efforts in science in contributing new ways of thinking and perspectives to a problem to be solved, but it also harbours tremendous economic potential for the money generated in science as well as society as a whole.

Women in STEM, Jaz Rabadia

Jaz Rabadia is Energy Manager at Debenhams Plc, a leading international multichannel retailer operating in over 160 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Jaz was the youngest person in the UK to be awarded Chartered Energy Manager status from the Energy Institute. Through her role as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador, she is keen to raise the awareness of energy and engineering management careers with students, to create a pipeline of future energy professionals.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today
Like most students, I had no idea of what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’. I chose engineering mainly because I wanted to keep my career options open and it seemed to tie in quite nicely with my A-levels in maths, design technology, chemistry and sports science. 
I knew a degree in engineering would impress future employers and that there was a real shortage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills in the UK. I read up about engineering and realised how important it is and how it helps better the lives of people all around the world. I knew then that by studying engineering, I could also help to make a difference.

Whilst studying for my degree at City University London, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree I took additional modules in Energy Management and Renewable Energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the worlds future energy demands. When it was time to start writing my dissertation rather than take on the project title I was given (‘’A thermodynamic analysis of the combustion engine’’), I decided to create my own project (‘’The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s’’). It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all I could do my dissertation during paid working hours!

Once complete, I presented my study and its finding to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who saw just how passionate I was; he even included a summary of my project in Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job! It really was that simple and I’ve never looked back since. 

I never imagined that my part time job as a Sainsbury’s checkout assistant would flourish into the role of Group Energy Manager, which ultimately made me responsible for all the electricity and gas used across the 1,000 store portfolio, managing the company’s second biggest controllable cost line; A job that makes environmental and commercial sense.

More Recently I joined Debenhams as Energy Manager. I’m responsible for managing the electricity used to light the stores, the gas used to heat them, and the water used for cleaning and hygiene in stores. Across all the stores, depots and offices in the UK, Debenhams spend over £35million per year on energy and water bills. This is one of their biggest costs and has a big impact on the environment. It’s another demanding, but rewarding job where I get to apply my communication, creativity and engineering skills. 

How do you think your experiences as a woman in STEM have made you who you are today?

Being a woman in STEM has made me an adaptable individual. The beauty of what I do is that every day presents a new and different challenge. This is helped me in my professional and personal life and I now have a pragmatic approach to challenges. Working in STEM has helped me to become confident in what I know, and not be afraid of what I don’t know. 

What have the highlights been in your career as a woman in STEM?

By far the biggest highlight in my career was achieving Chartered Energy Manager recognition from the Energy Institute. I am the youngest to be awarded this in UK. It’s given me a huge amount of confidence and it’s the stamp of approval from my Institution of all that I have achieved. Working in energy management is really rewarding. You can see almost instantly the effect of your work through a decrease in energy usage, lower energy bills and a minimised impact on the environment. 

What do you feel you gain from being a STEM ambassador?

To address the shortage of energy and engineering professionals coming through the pipeline, I have volunteered as a STEM Ambassador. This gives me the opportunity to go to schools, colleges and universities to talk about my career journey and expand on some of the challenges I have faced as a young woman in engineering. By dispelling some of the myths around what an engineer does and looks like, I inspire more students to consider careers in engineering. It also helps me to develop my leadership and presentation skills, I like to get creative and bring energy and engineering to life for the students. 

Have any women influenced you and your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have many women (and men) champion my career progression. This has been in the form of colleagues, friends and family. I’ve always been encouraged to pursue a career of my choice by my parents and when I chose engineering they were delighted. As part of my continued professional development I’ve had a female coach, Helen Sachdev who has been invaluable in helping me develop the leadership behaviours required for me to progress in my career. Focussing on both my professional environment and my personal circumstances, she has helped me to understand how to apply my beliefs and values to achieve my goals. She is a fantastic sounding board and always comes up with a unique perspective and great ideas to overcome challenges. It’s really important for women to reach out to each other and share their experience and wisdom. 

What are the main issues you face as a women in STEM?

As a female in energy/engineering, I often find that I am the only woman in the room. In the earlier stages of my career I saw this as a barrier, being the only woman in a room full of men can be quite intimidating. But as I gained confidence in my abilities, I saw this difference as a huge benefit. I had different ideas, approaches and ways of working that I could bring to the table. I realised that it was me that doubted my abilities, not everyone else in the room! 

What advice would you give to female STEM graduates?

Statistics show that those that study STEM degrees don’t always go on to pursue STEM careers, which is a real shame. The opportunities in STEM are vast. My advice to STEM graduates would be to explore the different careers that you can go into. Ask questions of those already in the industry, read case studies of those that have been on the journey. Be confident in your abilities and the rest will fall into place. 

What one word would you use to describe yourself?

Hungry ! ( usually for food, but also for knowledge)


The neuroscience of objectification.

Source: Google Images

In advertising, one of the most common selling techniques is to use the sexualisation of women, where women are portrayed as sex objects. Psychologically, this has contributed to a lot of the attitudes in everyday life that negatively effect women, because advertising that treats women as sex objects leads to men objectifying women and women objectifying themselves, but does this also have any implications neurologically?

There have been many studies into how the sexualisation of women affects Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is a psychological paradigm where you use your own mental state as a reference to work out the mental state of others (what they may be thinking or feeling or even how they may be thinking). This mechanism allows us to assess whether an entity is capable of feeling or thinking and plays a large part in how the sexualisation of women will cause the objectification of women.

(In the following studies, the researchers utilise a brain imaging technique called fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, this technique allows the visualisation of which brain areas become active when doing certain tasks).

Grey et al used fMRI scanning to monitor the activity in the brains of men when viewing images of sexualised women from advertising. They specifically monitored the areas of the brain which activate when we view an entity that is capable of thought and planning action (the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate and temporal poles). They saw that when men viewed this images of women, that these areas of the brain became less active, meaning that they viewed these women as incapable of thinking or being in charge of their own lives.

They also presented images of women in a range of types of clothing, some more revealing than others. As the sexualisation of women increased the perception of capability to think independently decreased.

Other studies also support Grey’s findings. Fiske et al monitored the brain activity of straight males using an fMRI machine, and showed them images of clothed men and women, or scantily clad men and women. When they took a memory test afterwards, the men remembered the images of women wearing swimsuits and whose heads were digitally removed the best (aka, the images where the women were sexually objectified to the highest degree). The brain scans showed that when the men saw the images o the women’s bodies, the area of the brain related to taking action (the premotor cortex) becomes increasingly active. This same brain region becomes increasingly active before using a power tool to do DIY.

These findings were not male specific, even though men showed this attribute more consistently, when the same task was done on women this sort of brain activity can also be seen (but in a less intense way). This may indicate why many women are likely to self-objectify, viewing themselves as objects that don’t have their own voice and as a body that needs to altered for the satisfaction of others. This sort of behaviour in women is highly linked to women being less likely to vote and become politically active as well as being linked to higher rates of eating disorders/depression in women.

Fiske also asked these men to complete a questionnaire which would identify how sexist the  participants were. The men who scored the highest in questionnaire (the men who showed higher levels of outward sexism) showed very little activity in the prefrontal cortex when viewing the images, this indicates that these men were not viewing these women as fully human.

These findings show that it is possible that this kind f advertising has conditioned us to consider women as objects and led to a high proportion of men viewing women as in less control of their own lives and as a tool for sexual gratification. Thus, it is incredibly important to limit (or eradicate) the exposure to the sexualisation of women in advertising, as this will help to combat the normalisation of using women as sex objects and prevent this unconscious psychological mechanism from causing men to objectify women.



The representation of women in Science Fiction.

Lab in Captain America (Image via Google Images: Find here)

The stereotypes surrounding the abilities of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are linked to the way women perceive their own abilities and the likelihood that they will pursue and maintain a career in these industries. Therefore, limiting the exposure to these stereotypes can be integral to improving the representation of women in STEM. The media plays an integral role in reinforcing or challenging these stereotypes, and I will be discussing the ramifications of the representation of women in science fiction in particular.
In science fiction, women are not only underrepresented, but are significantly less likely to be the main character or to represent a strong female role. The women in this genre more often than not assume a caring or passive role and are less likely to be played as ‘experts’ in their careers than male characters. These factors therefore not only are based around gender stereotypes that exists in society but actually emphasise them, and when repeatedly exposed to these gender stereotypes through media, can lead to ingraining of these expectations in the way women see themselves.

Prometheus (Image via Google Images: Find here)

Furthermore, these stereotypes echo many of the factors that limit women in their everyday lives. Women in the science fiction genre will often occupy lower skilled occupations in the character range and are usually noticeable due to their appearance or sexual attractiveness. This resembles the fact that women are more likely to occupy lower level jobs (this is linked to the way gender stereotypes effect the way women perceive their own potential and is the result of many barriers that limit women in the labour market) and are likely to be considered by their physical appearance before their academic capabilities or skills. Also, in media, the attractiveness of women is often portrayed as linked to their intelligence, with those considered sexually attractive being considered ‘bimbos’ and with intelligent women being portrayed as ‘frumpy’; this has therefore filtered into the everyday lives of women, providing a problematic issue for women with academic goals but being taught from a young age to value their physical appearance.

Dr Susan Calvin, I-Robot (Image via Google Images: Find here)

An excellent example of the trivialisation of women in science fiction is in the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness. Alice Eve played one of two female roles in the film, Dr Carol Marcus a molecular biologist. Even though her position in this role is rare and could be a powerful tool of representation for women in STEM careers, her integrity as a character is undermined by one scene (which for most people is the most memorable scene for her character in the whole film) in which she is shown in her underwear. The scene trivialises her abilities as a scientists and emphasises the importance of her physical appearance over her abilities as a strong female character as well as a women in STEM. This film is not the only example of this in the sic fi genre, the roles of women in these films are often undermined in this way (or by their role being the love interest in the storyline).

Dr Marcus in Star Trek Into Darkness (Image via Google Images: Find here)

The role of media in influencing society and the permeation of stereotypes to audiences means that it could be a tool in increasing the representation of women in STEM. By increasing the representation of women in science fiction, improving the variety of roles for women in these films and monitoring the stereotypes present, there could be potential for providing positive role models for women in STEM and transform sci-fi into a platform that could contribute to increasing the representation of women in STEM on and off screen.

Are stereotypes limiting women in science?

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There is an incredible lack of women in science, and this is not because women are less able in this field, but is most likely a combination of various factors that lead to women not being supported, not being taken seriously and feeling that they do not have the abilities in this industry.

So what causes women to be taken less seriously in science?

The biggest factor is the influence of gender stereotyping on the expectations of the abilities of men and women. These include expecting men to be strong, intelligent and powerful and expecting women to be caring, motherly and subordinate. Obviously, these stereotypes are damaging to all genders, however, the stereotypes for women are particularly damaging, limiting their perception of their own abilities, preventing them from pursuing a career that goes outside the stereotype and can lead to women being perceived as a vulnerable group, contributing to very high rates of violence towards women.

These society wide stereotypes then integrate themselves into the way we perceive the abilities of women, especially in careers or academic achievements (in fact, this also contributes towards women underestimating their own career prospects and academic achievement, please see here for more information). This can not only prevent women from achieving their goals, but also can create barriers for women in their careers, for example in science.

Historically, science has been male dominated and this leaves the scientific community particularly vulnerable to the presence of somewhat unconscious gender discrimination. Thus, women often struggle in science, not only against factors such as the gender wage gap or the leaky pipeline effect, but also in the way their presence in the scientific field can be doubted and not taken seriously. 

The stereotype that women are not as intelligent as men or are bad at science can thus contribute to preconceived ideas about their abilities. For example, many women in science report the benefits of gaining a PhD or abbreviating their name in order to hide their female identity, as the title ‘Dr’ or absence of a female first name on documentation prevents people from unconsciously (or in some cases, consciously) judging their work based on their gender. Dame Stephanie Shirley, the founder of the software company F.I. Group, famously changed her name to ‘Steve’ to assist her in the business world of computer programming and help prevent gender stereotyping from effecting her work.

Furthermore, the pressure on women to look a certain way can be problematic for women in science. The way women look is often linked to the perception of their abilities, if a women is considered attractive or is dressed fashionably/un-modestly, her capabilities as a scientist are brought into question. Women are also equally punished if they are considered to dress ‘frumpily’ or in a way that is not considered sexually attractive. Thus, this seesaw of punishment for women based on the way they look can be particularly problematic when pursuing a career and when needing to be taken seriously, as your abilities can be trivialised and as a woman you can be seen as unimportant if you are not completing what should be your main goal in life, looking attractive.

It is really important that we address the presence of gender stereotyping in our society as it makes us conscious of its effects. And only then can we start to prevent the way these stereotypes are limiting the lives women go on to live; in science, academia or in any career.


The importance of role models in encouraging girls into STEM

Image via Google Images

Currently, women are still massively underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) industries. This is caused by many reasons that are slowly being addressed by the industry, such as inflexible working hours restricting working parents, lack of support for women in STEM, the way we stereotype the characters of women in society and being discouraged (somewhat subconsciously) from a young age.

From a young age children absorb the information around them, shaping their view of the world, and even if they are not in direct contact with a strict reinforcer of gender roles, they will still pick these up from the wider environment. Most children will learn that boys need to be strong, powerful and financially responsible, whereas girls develop the idea that they need to assume a caring, submissive role. These gender traits can often limit girls in their self confidence and alter their perceptions of their own skills, this is called Stereotype Threat. Stereotype Threat is thought to underlie the consistent under-performance of girls in Maths and Science in comparison to boys in the UK (Simpkins and Davis-Kean, 2005). In fact, in countries where there still remains fairly prominent gender roles (such as in the UK and Turkey), girls will under perform in maths and science in comparison to boys; But in countries where there are more equal opportunities for boys and girls (such as in Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the gender gap between science and maths test results significantly reduces to almost no difference.

Another factor that appears to place a vital role in the participation of girls in STEM subjects is the presence of a female role model. When students are regularly exposed to a female role model who works in STEM industries, the negative attitudes towards women in STEM is improved. This also is thought to decrease the effect of Stereotype Threat on girls’ performance in these subjects, especially if the role model is someone they can identify with. Therefor, it is incredibly important for schools to utilise outreach projects available to ensure that there is periodical exposure to female role models. This will not only be beneficial for girls, but improve the opinions of boys as well.

So what can we do? We need to endeavour to reduce the exposure to gender stereotypes in society, to ensure children reach their full academic potential and are not hindered in their future careers by Stereotype Threat. We also need to make sure schools fully utilise STEM engagement programmes that are available, such as STEMNet. To ensure that not only are children exposed to the variety of career paths in science, but also girls can find role models that can assist them in achieving their career goals.