Almost a quarter of female scientists want to leave the sector for good

Almost a quarter of female scientists want to leave the sector for good

female scientist

New research conducted by Professional Scientists Australia and Science & Technology Australia has revealed startling insights into the challenges faced by individuals in science over the last few months during the global pandemic.

Just under fifteen hundred scientists participated in the research, which found a 17 percent gender pay gap among those who responded.

The authors of the study told The Guardian’s science reporter Daniel Hurst “[the results] deepened concerns that the impact of the Covid-19 health crisis will further exacerbate” the depreciation of women in STEM fields and the bleak gender pay gap they continue to be subject to.

The study found that almost one in five respondents said they were going to leave the profession permanently. More women than men said this; 21.7 percent of women said they were planning to leave the field, whereas only 15.7 percent of men expressed this sentiment.

The authors of the report remarked that “female respondents more commonly cited lack of recognition or opportunities, lack of career advancements and parenthood” as reasons for “considering permanently leaving the profession.” 

The report found that female scientists earned on average 82.9 percent of male respondents’ earnings. Factors such as the absence of women in more senior roles and a lack of women over 40 in the field may contribute to this gap.

Brisbane-based fertility scientist Annalese Jack spoke to The Guardian as she was on the cusp of leaving her job as embryologist, a role she’s had for the last fifteen years. 

“I am one of those people who has made the change now,”Jack told The Guardian. “I’m going to join the union movement and hopefully continue to advocate for women in STEM, although I feel a little guilty actually being one of the people who’s leaving.”

“I found initially I was able to manage continuing my career with having children, but as my children got older the sort of work-family conflict increased, and I think that was probably more when they started school.”

The “very black and white” mentality of the science field and “quite rigid structures” made the Queensland University of Technology graduate reconsider her career.

“If you put an experiment or something in to incubate overnight, you have to be there in the morning to get it, and when that combined with the school schedule, the uniform shop open one morning, one day a week, things were getting really difficult for me to manage.”

“We’re certainly paid the same for the same job – but I think perhaps the males with less family pressures are able to progress into those higher up positions more easily,” she said. “Often if you drop down to part-time, you’re potentially seen as not taking your career as seriously.”

“A lot of fertility scientists were stood down during the pandemic and I think spending time at home gave people a really clear chance to think about what they wanted.”

Katie Havelberg is another Brisbane-based scientist who opened up about her thoughts regarding the state of the STEM industry for women in Australia. She told The Guardian that women face limited opportunities for advancement once they reached a certain stage in their careers. 

“It’s not surprising that a high number of women compared with men were planning to leave the industry,” Havelberg said.

Jill McCabe, Professional Scientists Australia’s chief executive, told The Guardian the report re-establishes the need to teach more girls STEM skills and that trying to boost the number of female graduates at universities was in itself, insufficient to solving the problem.

“Future STEM strategies must focus on improving the participation and retention of women at the workplace level,” McCabe said in a statement.

Misha Schubert, chief executive of Science & Technology Australia, believes we cannot afford to lose talent in science through gender divisions. She wants more Australians to get online and tweet #CelebrateAScientist hashtag to shoutout a special Australian scientist, ahead of this week’s announcement of the annual Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, which is in its 21st year.

“With the world’s hopes pinned on scientists to find us a way out of the pandemic, the value of science has never been clearer – yet our scientists don’t always feel that recognition,” she said.

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