A conversation about parenting, gender, and women and men in STEM

8 Apr

Recently this tweet by Terry McGlynn caught my eye:

From here, we started a conversation about work place policy for women:

Conversations like this usually get me down the rabbit hole of thinking about women & careers. I started to remember a feature by CBC Doc Zone, The Motherload (free online access for Canadian viewers).

Perhaps it’s because it was all supposed to have changed by now. Dads were supposed to carry more of the load. Motherhood was not supposed to become so idealized. Employers were supposed to be more flexible. Women were supposed to climb higher up the ladder, but feel less guilty. Society was supposed to live up to the promises our mothers made.  From single moms to CEOs – a generation of burnt-out, disillusioned moms are waking up and smelling the coffee. Forget having it all – today’s working moms are doing it all. Call it “The Motherload”.

This is hardly a surprise. Assuming that the amount of parenting work remains the same – with women taking on professional careers and spending more time focusing on work, the void must be filled somehow (by men, considering our social structure is not there yet). But, according to the documentary, only 26% of the Canadian fathers take *some* parental leave, vs 88% of the mothers. (Actually, Terry is part of the 26%)

But why is that?

And Paul Carini chimed in:

This is complicated, and there is no simple fix:

Terry talks about this more extensively on his blog post, On gender, parenting and academic careers. A very good blog post, please take some time to read it.

Going further down in the rabbit hole, perhaps I should support this with some data (and also because Pew Research Centre just published the data today and I can’t wait to include this in my post). According to the Pew Research Centre Report: After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers, more than 70% of the Americans are supportive of working mothers, yet this support certainly does not fit well with results from another survey done in 2013:

Some 51% of respondents said that children are better off if their mother is at home, while 34% said they are just as well off with a working mother. And, in a separate question, they were asked about fathers and their children. Only 8% of all adults said that children are better off if their father is home and doesn’t hold a job, while 76% said children are just as well off if their father works.

(Another Pew Research Centre survey published last year also found that “women are much more likely than men to report having had a significant career interruption related to family caregiving.”)

Also, if we look at stay-at-home moms with a college degree, 88% of them have working husbands. This is the group that likely have a better chance of finding a job, and probably with less financial burden, yet why their husbands are the working ones, but not they, is curious (get paid less? cannot find jobs? social pressure to stay at home and care for kids? truly want to stay at home? probably worthy another analysis?). Reading the report, it is not difficult to see how complicated the issue is when you consider marital status, income level, education level, etc etc (hence, more than a gender issue…).

So now the question – how can we tackle this issue?

Agreed. And I think conversations including both genders are very important.

(I thank him for the twitter conversation and said that this had been a great conversation)

Now about having conversations re: women & careers and women in STEM. My personal experience chatting with some male colleagues and friends is that because discussions on these topics usually end up very heated (their impressions are that pretty much anything they said could be considered against women’s rights, or that they don’t understand the issues because they are not women), they would rather avoid conversations about any gender-related issue all together. And, many of these conversations happen in female-dominant meetings, where males are the minority. This could be very uncomfortable for male participants. At one of such meetings that I happened to be at, one presenter made a wiener joke – and I don’t even want to imagine how uncomfortable the two male students in attendance felt (Funny how that we are trying to increase the number of women in STEM, yet we created another minority in the discussion of women in STEM).

This is a huge problem for two reasons. 1. There is no way to know how to better change policy if we only have half of the opinions in the room. 2. Many of those in decision-making roles are still male, and without some buy-in and participation from them, gender-related discussions often reflect to actual changes very, very slowly.

How can we change this? I think more people are aware of the lack of males in discussions regarding women in STEM. For example, in the Women Poised for Discovery and Innovation: Resolving the Remaining Hurdles session (see my Storify of the session) during American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, less than 5% of the session attendees are male, and people started to tweet about it right away. But, perhaps there is more we can do about this. How can we frame this so that it is more than a women’s issue, but something that everyone should participate in the discussion for? Even men in STEM have mothers, daughters, other colleagues they can relate to? What do our male colleagues think of these issues and are they aware these issues could bring instability into the academic environments as a whole? After all, a healthy academic environment must be good for everyone?

Let’s start the conversation.

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com (Piled Higher and Diapers on Jan 11, 2010)

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com (Piled Higher and Diapers on Jan 11, 2010)

 

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