Pink for girls, blue for boys: Why gender stereotypes should no longer exist in academia

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Pink for girls, blue for boys: Why gender stereotypes should no longer exist in academia

By Project 5-100

Science is a vital driver of humanitarian, economic and technical development. The more high-tech, digital and knowledge-intensive the world economy gets, the more urgent the lack of women in science becomes.

According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics, women make only about a quarter of the world’s scientific community. In Russia only 38% of all professionals working in scientific, mathematical, engineering and technological careers (STEM) are women. A study conducted by Moscow Higher School of Economics in 2016 showed that natural science alone is a heavily male dominated field: 147 604 males vs. 77 434 females. The study estimates the global impact of girls’ under-representation in science. Its findings show the transformative power of participation of girls in science and a promising trend of leaving no one behind and bridging the gender gap in science at the senior high schools in Russia being vital for achieving sustainable development .

In Russia, women got legal opportunities to enter science earlier than women in many other countries did. Laws establishing equal rights for men and women to education and choosing a profession and an occupation were passed in the 1920s. Before 1917 only 10% of all researchers in science were women, but in the next 20 years this number had increased significantly. After the Soviet government implemented quotas for women in 1929, the amount of female university students increased to 37% in 1934 and to 42% in 1938. Yet, most scientific fields were clearly gender-biased, e.g. just 1.9% of all researchers in industrial and technical studies were women in 1929. By the beginning of the 1930s Soviet academia was a very centralized vertical structure, power and control assigned to the government, and scientific community followed ambitious plans launched by the Communist Party. Soviet economy needed modernization and universities became a credential evaluation provider and of skill levels assessor. In 1930-1950s a new concept of a “Soviet family” was formed. The role of a woman in Soviet society at that time was defined as a worker and a mother. To stimulate the growth of social production, women were motivated to master highly skilled labor that required academical education.

Another study conducted by Moscow Higher School of Economics showed that “between 1973 and 1976 .. an increase in female relative contribution in all disciplines. The inclusion process of Soviet journals to the Science Citation Index during these years could be a contributing factor to this increase. The gender gap being less significant in the national journals than in the foreign ones…  From 1991 onwards … a rise of the women’s proportion of fractionalized authorship in Psychology, Clinical Medicine, Biology and Biomedical Research. Unsurprisingly, several of the specialties of Psychology as well as of the two medical disciplines (Clinical Medicine and Biomedical Research) are related to domains historically considered “feminized” and “care” areas of research. Mathematics is the only other discipline where we can see a slight increase in female relative contribution to scientific output after 1991. In a difficult economic position, the Russian state could not support science anymore, a large number of male scientists left Russia to continue their research abroad, which might explain part of this increase. On the other hand, we see after 1991 a significant decline of female relative contribution in Engineering and Technology. However, one should keep in mind that after 1991, our statistics lose all papers from other USSR republics, except the Russian Federation”.

In modern Russia about 57% of all university students are female, 46% of them study science. However, Russia is still not there yet in terms of gender parity. It remains one of the most advanced country in terms of gender parity on science, although there is still a gap there. Females are less likely to make a scientific career, since science has been relying on traditional gender role for the centuries but be seeing progress towards gender parity shift for two decades. Women are still encouraged to start a family in their early and mid-twenties and those of them who choose to make a career instead, especially in the fields traditionally labeled as “masculine” (e.g. STEM), can feel pressure from family and peers but have the opportunity to learn and to reap the full benefits of research.

There are three major reasons why young Russian women don’t show interest in science: gender stereotypes, peer pressure and the lack of support from their families. A study by Moscow State University showed that despite an obvious lack of career prospects, most women in academia don’t feel being discriminated against. According to the study, women in general are not ready to fight their way up the career ladder as they consider this to be “masculine behavior”. Women, who are building a career in STEM fields, stated that their scientific research was often not as appreciated as that of their male colleagues, and teachers tended to more often support the scientific work of male students.

Starting in secondary school, gender-specific attitudes towards STEM consolidate in high school. As a result, science, technology and engineering remain predominantly male, shows a study by Moscow Higher School of Economics. A survey conducted in 2017 among the secondary school children of Moscow and the town of Gubkin, Belgorod Region, showed that boys and girls tend to make an equally good academic performance in mathematics. However, male and female students differ greatly in terms of confidence and self-assessment of their performance. According to the study, 73% of girls who did not rate their academic performance as high were not going to choose a career in STEM.

As women are generally supposed to benefit the society by “caring”, girls are rarely encouraged by their families to choose a career in science. Science is a less desirable life-time career choice for girls than for boys.

Russian academia community has recently taken a few steps to improve visibility of women of science. One of these steps was the founding of the ‘For Women in Science’ award program in 2007. The program run jointly by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO is aimed at involving universities and technological corporations in supporting female scientists.

After all, Russia is doing pretty well compared to the rest of the Western world. According to UNESCO, 29% of all researchers worldwide are women, compared with 41% in Russia. Although the number of female scientists in Russia has decreased over recent years from 151 500 in 2014 to 148 300 in 2016, the number of PhD’s among them has been growing consistently as according to the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge at Moscow Higher School of Economics. Russian universities, Project 5-100 universities among them, are dedicated to combating women’s underrepresentation in science and research and giving female scientists appreciation they deserve.

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Starting from 2013, Russia has been implementing Project 5-100, – a state support program for Russian universities. Its goal is to raise the standing of Russian higher education and have at least five member universities in the top-100 of three respected world rankings. Project 5-100 is enabling 21 Russian universities to move forward in terms of effectively strengthening their education and research, promoting innovations and R&D, facilitating international cooperation, streamlining administration, balancing the authority of the management and academics, nurturing a proactive academic environment, increasing internationalization, providing sufficient incentives for attracting the top professors from around the world and also for the existing faculty’s professional growth.