Women for Science

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  • Resources for launching or reestablishing careers

    Women often take family-related career breaks. And as a consequence, they typically experience a loss of confidence and endure discrimination later on when applying for positions or being considered for promotions. In academia, the principal cause of this phenomenon is the women’s publication record (the main productivity measure in research), which will have been disrupted; they will thus appear to have underachieved. The resulting unfair practices are being tackled by funding schemes and programmes —some of which are just for women. In certain countries, where such earmarking is illegal, programmes address the needs of women but are equally open to men.

    Although many careers can be easily resumed after an interruption, this is not necessarily true for careers in fast-moving fields such as science and engineering. The linear academic career pattern that is typical of men— gaining in succession a first degree, an entry-level job in science, a Ph.D. by one’s late twenties, and a post-doctoral position before securing a permanent research or teaching position —is not always an option for a young woman, who may be following a spouse or establishing a family. Women scientists may be retained in the pipeline however if support measures, such as a temporary replacement during maternity leave or subsidized childcare (which benefits both women and men employees who raise children), are available.

     For those women who, for family reasons, have left scientific employment for a significant length of time and later wish to return, the creation of nontraditional career routes is essential. An element of such pathways should be mechanisms for maintaining professional contacts, at least minimally. The Maximising Returns report published in the United Kingdom in 2000 (www.setwomenresource.org.uk) outlined a series of measures for facilitating women’s eventual return to careers in science and technology. Such measures include:

    • Keep-in-touch schemes that involve scientific staff in various activities when they are on career breaks. These include continuing to send newsletters, arranging for regular interviews with colleagues, providing short periods of office or laboratory work, and assuring access to work-related emails and websites.
    • Reduced fees offered by professional societies for the period of a career break. Members receive journals (or at least online access) and other benefits.
    • Invitations to events such as conferences, often at reduced rates.

    Because women are more likely than men to have interruptions in their career path, it is especially important that funding schemes aimed specifically at women be in place. Some countries provide dedicated funding for women researchers—such programmes include the Female Researchers in Joint Action (FREJA) initiative in Denmark, the Tham Professorships in Sweden, the C3 professorship programme of Germany’s Max Planck Society, and the University Faculty Awards in Canada. Through the University Faculty Awards, universities can appoint talented women scientists to assistant professor positions that include salary allowances and minimum research grants for five-year periods. The Indian Department of Science and Technology has received sizeable government funding for three granting programmes —in research, capacity building, and entrepreneurship —aimed at re-entering women scientists (www.dst.gov.in).

    The Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship programme in the United Kingdom offers flexibility, even while women are on a fulltime career break or partial break, in applying for faculty positions. Funded by the Royal Society of London, this scheme enables recipients to move between part-time and fulltime work while receiving a salary, research expenses, and support. The fellowship programme is open to women and men, but it has been designed particularly with women in mind.

    The Advisory Panel recommends that academies establish or support leadership programmes and management training courses to empower women and provide them with the confidence, knowledge, and ability to launch, maintain, or reestablish their science or engineering careers.


    Chapter 3 has focused on support programmes for girls and women who have access to education and want to pursue careers in science and technology. Chapter 4 focuses on girls and women who desperately need access to technology but who presently have limited or no access to education. While this grassroots approach relies on S&T professionals to create the tools and provide instruction in their use, it transcends the S&T community per se by empowering the millions, even billions, of people — that is, formally uneducated women—who are essential to their countries’ economies.

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