We know that women in academia are disproportionately affected by funding structures, academic culture and caring responsibilities whatever their discipline. We know that there is a gender disparity in Science, Technology Engineering, and Maths disciplines. We do not know why women in the chemical sciences are further marginalised. Within the chemical sciences the lack of retention and progression for women and all those with protected Equality and Diversity characteristics is pronounced. The proportion of women choosing to study chemistry in the UK was 45% in 2014/15 compared to 20% choosing physics, and yet in both the proportion of women at professorial levels was just 9% (RSC, 2018). More women are employed on short-term precarious contracts, making it difficult to settle down, secure a home and start a family if they choose to do so. More women are involved in interdisciplinary research. Yet women author fewer papers and are cited less. Proportionately fewer women sit on editorial boards, are nominated for awards, and far fewer file patent applications.
Culture has an impact, and often there is one of heavy drinking (RSC, 2019). This particularly disadvantages women who are less likely to participate (Phipps & Young, 2015). We know that career breaks and having a family is a consideration, as is a lack of role models and mentors. At the current rate of change, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) recognises that the chemical sciences will never reach gender parity (2018).
How does this context affect developing academic identity as women progress through their careers (or not), and what can be done about it? WISC (Women In Supramolecular Chemistry) began in March 2019 and was launched on twitter in November 2019. Our overall aim is to develop an international community of Supramolecular Chemistry researchers, and to produce a flagship mentoring network that will increase diversity within the global supramolecular chemistry community, with a specific initial focus to increase the proportion of women employed within science post-PhD, as this period (normally when a researcher is in their 20s-30s) has been identified as a time when large numbers of women leave the chemical sciences.
We have an active survey to capture the views of those working in the field, and so far this is echoing the findings of the RSC with regard to perceptions of the gendered nature of chemistry and perceptions of career breaks. Interestingly, when asked about experiences of taking career breaks, the most positive were from white men…
We want to intervene within a space that is unfair and marginalised against women, and change the experiences of women entering the field. We want to use an interdisciplinary approach drawing on feminist and creative research practices to make sure that voices are heard, and show the STEM community that interventions like this one are worthwhile and necessary.
Please get in touch if you want to join us or support us!
RSC (2018) Diversity landscape of the chemical sciences
RSC (2019) Breaking the barriers: Women’s retention and progression in the chemical sciences
Phipps & Young (2015) ‘Lad culture’ in higher education: agency in the sexualisation debates. Sexualities, 18(4):459-479
Jennifer Leigh (CSHE, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent firstname.lastname@example.org); Jennifer Hiscock (SPS, University of Kent, email@example.com); Claudia Calragirone (Universita fi Cagliari, firstname.lastname@example.org; Anna McConnell (University of Kiel, email@example.com)
Cally Haynes (UCL, firstname.lastname@example.org); Emily Draper (University of Glasgow, Emily.Draper@kent.ac.uk); Kate Joliffe (University of Sydney, email@example.com); Michaele Hardie (University of Leeds, firstname.lastname@example.org); and Nathalie Busschaert (email@example.com).