My CV is gender biased; here’s what I plan to do about it
Women have been working to break through the glass ceiling since the 1960s. While cracks are starting to appear, in many professions gender inequality persists.
Arian Wallach reveals why she decided to take a critical look at her own work, how individual commitments, alongside institutional targets, could bolster diversity in her field and how some small changes she’s making are already having a positive impact.
Reflecting on diversity
As a woman working in the environmental sciences it was always obvious to me that most of my colleagues are men. This tended to focus my attention on surviving in a field in which I automatically contribute to diversity just by being there.
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In 2018, I joined a panel of academic women at UTS for Ada Lovelace Day – an international annual celebration of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM). The event gave me an opportunity to pause my research and reflect on what it means to work in a male-dominated field, and what I could do personally to support diversity in science.
For the first time, I thought seriously about how my own choices were influencing gender balance and diversity. I decided to take a critical look at the gender representation within my own academic portfolio, paying particular attention to projects I led. These are the ones where I had substantial agency in selecting who would be invited to join a research project. I then asked myself: how many women have I invited to work with me? The answer is: not many.
My CV has a gender bias
My gender-biased CV is, frankly, embarrassing. I can count on a single hand the number of women I have invited to collaborate with me on publications and grants. Of my peer-reviewed publications in which I was lead author, 96 per cent of my co-authors are men. On publications in which I was co-author, 77 per cent are men.
The first woman I invited to co-author a publication was in 2015. Since then, I have published with only two other women. All of the co-investigators on my research grants are men. Yup, I actually haven’t shared a single research dollar with a female colleague.
How could this have happened?
It simply did not occur to me that I could or should play an active role in shaping my professional community.
My discipline (environment) is clearly male-biased, as is my research field (ecology of large carnivores). A quick search on Google Scholar for the keywords of my research area brings up publications almost exclusively written by men. So it’s no surprise that my immediate community of collaborators are men. To create a more diverse community, I would need to actively reach out.
Making a personal commitment to diversity
Success in science is about more than the individual. Science is a highly-collaborative field. Academic careers are made, not only by the projects we lead, but also by the projects we are invited to collaborate on.
In this way, the work of science lends itself to a feminist ethic, which appropriately highlights the importance of community and relationships. I believe in institutional targets and quotas. I also believe in individual commitments.
I’m committed to increasing the diversity of my personal academic community. To do this, I have begun the slow journey of bringing more academic women into my community. And I’m pleased the gender balance in my peer-reviewed publications is starting to show signs of change.
The benefits of diversity and how to achieve it
Of course, there are other important forms of inclusion and diversity to be mindful of, including race, ethnicity, nationality, identity and religion.
Inviting women, and other underrepresented peoples, to participate in research projects and scholarly activities is something all academics can do, whether as PhD students or professors. As another way to improve diversity, academics based in rich countries can reach out to academics from countries that have less access to research funds. Forging new international relationships and collaborations, particularly between scientists who are citizens of nations with limited or even fraught relationships, is good for science and is important for society.
The benefits for institutions and for science in having diverse views, experiences, cultures and backgrounds is well known. It’s similarly valuable for individual creativity, critical thinking and innovation. Even in less collaborative fields and projects, we can pay attention to who we are citing in scholarly publications. This is important because citation counts are an important measure of academic success.
In order to enhance diversity in our professional communities we need not exclude existing colleagues and experts, we need only start to actively expand our network to be more inclusive.
Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow
UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation
Incorporating marginalised peoples in our professional communities may feel risky, particularly for early career researchers. After all, it is often necessary to work with well-established academics to develop, and at this point in time most in this category are men.
In order to enhance diversity in our professional communities we need not exclude existing colleagues and experts, we need only start to actively expand our network to be more inclusive. For example, when we start a new research project we can simply reach out to a scientist from a marginalised group to join the team.
I can’t say whether my CV is uniquely lacking in diversity. Some areas of STEMM are more male-biased than others. But I suspect I am not unusual.
There’s a long way to go before science becomes a project that truly belongs to all of humanity. But it seems to me that if we all pay more attention to how we form our professional communities, in a way that is attentive to structural inequities, we can change things a lot more quickly.
Arian Wallach is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Compassionate Conservation in the Faculty of Science.
A version of this article was originally published on The Conversation.