Equate Scotland Women into STEM

Equate Scotland are experts in gender equality across science, engineering, technology and the built environment. They work with employers, students and women to improve the recruitment, retention and progression of women ensuring fair access to opportunities.

On Wednesday, Equate Scotland ran a conference on Women into STEM: How to Take Action and I went along to learn more.

The plenary speaker was Jamie Hepburn (MSP for employability and training). Jamie spoke of the government’s increased funding being given to the Return to Work fund. Applications to this fund can be made for money to improve access to training and employment opportunities for women. Equate Scotland has been a previous recipient of the award, which has helped to set up fantastic placements for women to get back into the workplace and freshen up their skills.

Jamie highlighted the fact that women are much more likely to take flexible jobs to take care of dependents and many have to take part time work as a result. The Scottish government is trying to encourage employers to consider whether their jobs can be made flexible. This would be great, not only to help women take care of dependents, but also so that men can help share the burden and eventually make it just as likely for a man to take care of a dependent as a women (we’ll see if this ever happens!).

Uncovering my own biases

The next session was on the basics of unconscious bias and was run by Equate Scotland. There are many types of unconscious bias including:

  • In and out bias – where we prefer people like us and form “in” groups
  • Halo and horns bias – where we like/don’t like someone so tend to agree or disagree with what they say or their actions
  • Confirmation bias – where we selectively hear things that confirm our pre-formed ideas

We were forced to admit our own biases (I’m racist, sexist and ageist) and think about how we can take positive action to avoid these biases manifesting themselves into negative effects. I would encourage everyone to think about their unconscious biases as when they become conscious we can start to combat them. You can check your own biases using the Harvard Implicit Test (WARNING – you might not like what you find!).

One example of unconscious bias comes from a study at Yale University, where two identical studentship applications were sent to science professors in the US. The only difference between the applications was the name of the applicant – either Jennifer or John. The professors were asked to rate the applications on competence, hireability and how willing they would be to mentor the student. Jennifer came out worse on all three of these measures and was also offered a lower average salary ($26,508) than John ($30,238).

Jennifer v John. Graph taken from Moss-Racusin et al. PNAS, 2012

In Scotland the pay gap is still 13% – that’s an average of £108 less per week for a woman in an identical role. Is the problem down to employers not seeing women in the same roles as men? A Google Image search for “engineer” reveals a stark lack of women represented in the role and this may influence how employers see women.

Google images

Should we have men in women’s networks?

The rest of the conference was spent discussing how to improve our outreach activities (have fewer, more in depth activities with follow up and try some women only activities) and talking about the importance of women’s networks in an organisation.

Many workplaces are starting to implement women’s networks, but why they are doing so can vary. Some employers want to be seen as having a positive working environment for women, while some want to work out how to change their working practices to make women feel more comfortable. There was some discussion about whether men should be part of women’s networks and the general feeling was, yes as they need to understand the particular problems that women face before we can combat a society that prevents women excelling at work. It was also pointed out, however, that women will occasionally need a “safe space” to discuss some issues and men would not be appropriate at these meetings.

ScienceGrrl Glasgow has male and female members and our male members are a vital part of the group. They are often very knowledgeable about issues around women and girls in STEM and we would not be without them. If our aim is to improve the way that women are perceived in STEM society, then we will need to engage with men and boys at every level. As the ScienceGrrl motto goes: Science is for everyone!

Follow Equate Scotland on Twitter:  @EquateScotland


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