This round up is a little late. Here at UCLan Athena SWAN we’ve been very busy with attending conferences and running events. More on these on the blog soon, but for now, here’s the latest Diversity News Round-up. 🙂
This article presents the findings of an interesting new PLOS one study. In the research it was found that women are as likely as men to be appointed to jobs in Maths based fields, however, they are far less likely to apply. The research discussed in this article examined why this might be, by following PhD researchers and their interest in research based careers post their PhD. What they found was somewhat unsurprising. The researchers separated their participants into two groups; those from “well represented” groups (e.g. white males) and those from “under-represented groups” (e.g. women, men of colour, etc). What they found was that those from Under-represented groups lost more interest in faculty careers than did those from Well represented groups. The paper’s author is quoted as saying:
Differences are not explained by research productivity, self-confidence, or how the scientists describe their relationship with their adviser
It would seem then that something happens during PhD training that discourages people from “under-represented” groups from staying in STEMM when they complete. As the authors of the article state
Finding out why research-focused faculty careers have less appeal to members of under-represented groups, then – and why all groups lose interest in such careers over the course of their graduate training – would appear to be an important step toward diversifying academic science,
One such problem is highlighted in this blog post about the “Myth of the academic meritocracy”. This myth is pervasive through academia with almost everyone subscribing to the belief that success in academia is predicated on your merit as a researcher/scientist. This myth is fueled by the “cult of the individual” or the “lone genius”, discussed in the last Diversity News Round-up. As the author of this blog post says:
The fact of the matter is, we are trained to believe that the best, the brightest and the most hardworking get the most professional recognition, but this could not be further from the truth…
Aside from luck and various forms of privilege, the number one factor in academic success/survival is resilience in the face of rejection and failure…
They [those who have success in academia] struggle with their inner critic. They doubt their capabilities. At some point…they were told their ideas were bulls*%t. Their manuscripts and proposals get rejected. Their projects fail. Their paper submissions get ripped apart by ruthless reviewers…
An academic career is not for the feint of heart, but this idea that if you only work hard enough, if you are smart enough, write well enough, research better, makes things even more difficult for those from minority groups. When people come up against structural barriers to progression, for example women facing sexism or a disabled scholar facing disablism; these barriers can be interpreted as personal failure. These people then internalise a message that the reason they are not experiencing the success that they want, is because they are not good enough. And so they are pushed out.
I, at least, think this could be one explanation for why PhDs lose interest in faculty careers, and why it happens to a greater extent for under-represented groups. The author of this blog highlights the micro-aggressions faced by under-represented groups in academia.
The stress of managing minority status. The mentors, colleagues or students who question your abilities or directly disparage your presence, your work or both.
Being from an under-represented group puts you at a disadvantage, this is then compounded by discriminatory practices embedded within the structure of academia, but all the while you are being told that academia is a meritocracy, and so the problem must be you. Everyone needs to be resilient to work in academia, but those from under-represented groups need an extra level of resilience to succeed.
This is why I think the Athena SWAN agenda is particularly important. Those of us working in these roles, and anyone else who can, need to start challenging these myths and these structures, We need to reduce the load on under-represented groups, and also, ideally, I would like to change the culture of academia so success can be predicated on team-work, on collaboration. In short I’d like to see an end to the myth of a meritocracy and to the cult of the individual.