Nature Immunology looks at gender issues in science careers

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Gender stereotypes are still preventing women from attaining full recognition of their research careers, even in the United States. The February Editorial of Nature Immunology (11, 99; 2010) reports that females who hold high-ranking positions in academia and enjoy full recognition of their scientific achievements are still a very rare breed. “According to reports by the European Commission and National Science Foundation in 2006, less than 15% of the full professorship positions in Europe and around 19% in the USA are held by women. Survivors of a very stringent selection process, through sheer excellence or combinations of happy circumstances, they still unfortunately represent more of an exception than the rule.”

Various large surveys have been conducted to explore the underlying reasons for this state of affairs, for example why women have slower rates of promotion or why they publish less throughout their careers, on average. Various smaller studies and surveys are briefly described in the Editorial, which ends with this conclusion:

“The problems faced by women in science, including self-imposed doubts, are complex and deeply rooted in the structure of our society. A report by the European Commission (Gender and Education, July 2009) points out that gender is a socially and educationally constructed identity. Parents, peers and teachers contribute to creating gender stereotypes in which women are seen as caregivers and men are seen as authority figures. Achieving gender equality requires that these norms be challenged. Although altering cultures and attitudes is a very slow process, certain policy changes are attainable and should be implemented. Closing the salary gap between men and women, establishing more family-friendly work environments and actively increasing the visibility of positive role models should make a faculty career more attractive to women. Education fosters change, so universities and institutes should support educational and research programs on gender equality and have policies that are regularly monitored and publicly appraised. In today’s society, science should be a place where women belong at all levels.”

Nature Immunology journal website.

Nature Immunology’s peer-reviewers in 2009.


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