‘What is this?” A man’s hand takes a leaking bag out of my bag. „Breast milk.” He looks dirty. „Tasty and nutritious”, I meet the best man. I am at Newcastle Airport, returning from a conference. About 30 bags are put through the scanner at a snail’s pace. My two PhD students look a bit nervous. I am a professor-mother or mother-professor, a rare combination, as it turns out.
At the beginning of December, the National Network of Women Professors presented new figures. The share of female professors is 27.6 percent. Growth, which was already barely noticeable at just one percentage point per year, is decreasing. Women are overrepresented among students, their share decreases with every step up the academic career ladder. There is also good news: the old boys network is retiring and the pool of associate professors (one step below the position of professor) is filled with top female talent. Now is the time to turn the tide! But more needs to be done than appointing female professors, because the outflow is high, especially among mothers.
Last November, the non-profit organization Mothers in Science presented figures on four groups of scientists: fathers, mothers and childless academics (m/f). In addition to obstacles that women in science face, such as gender stereotypes, discrimination and sexism, mothers are punished even more. They burn out most often, leave science disproportionately, are least appreciated, earn the worst, more often have a temporary contract, receive less promotion and rarely have a leadership position. It is striking that mothers publish more scientific articles than men and women without children. Also notable: fathers have the most output and mothers work as much overtime as the rest. The data shows that parenting is not the problem: mothers are at least as competent and ambitious as fathers or childless people. No, there’s something about motherhood.
Like a zombie
To explain what, I’ll use myself as an example. Four years ago I got pregnant. Discomforts disturbed my sleep and I walked around like a zombie. I gave birth at 35 weeks and my son and I had to recover in the hospital for a period of time, after which I ended up in postnatal depression. After four months, I took my tiny little boy to daycare and took up my old role. But I felt like an actress ‘playing a scientist’. A year and a half later I had a miscarriage and had to recover for a long time. Stress and physical complaints characterized the third pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of a second child. A year later I’m trying to keep all the balls in the air.
I am happy with two healthy boys and a partner who has a day off every week. The children go to daycare for three days and my parents help a lot. Despite all this luxury, I am very tired due to the persistent broken nights. I am also less flexible. An event late in the day? It passes me by because the children have to be picked up from daycare. Other people’s assumptions don’t help. Data from Mothers in Science shows that assumptions cause women to be seen as less competent, ambitious and employable after childbirth. I recognize this, for example, from the surprised reactions I get when I bring my baby and babysitter or breast pump and ice chest to a conference.
Away from the beautiful words
Universities are responsible for maintaining the quality of science, to which diversity and a diversity of perspectives contribute. Talk the talk, walk the walk. If universities want to prevent the outflow of valuable scientific talent, they must move away from the nice words about gender equality and towards concrete adjustments in a culture and structure that has been built for and by men over the centuries and that is in need of a much-needed overhaul. An all-important first step is to listen to this group and recognize and remove the barriers that underlie inequality. Make sure that the policy is actually designed to offer the same opportunities to everyone: man, woman, with or without a child.
The current policy is unfair. To give a concrete example. Part of the time I spend on research in addition to teaching duties is paid for by research subsidies. This budget covers research costs required to carry out a project where clear goals must be achieved within a set time. Maternity leave and feeding or pumping during working hours shortens this time while the amount of work remains the same. The UWV compensates universities for maternity leave and, for example, additional research assistance can be hired to help the researcher achieve the goals. However, this compensation does not cover the costs and often ends up in the large pot.
Give mothers back the lost time, reduce their education so that they can work on career-defining scientific output, give them extra travel budget so that they can visit conferences and maintain contacts and give them more female role models to show that with extra support they can achieve a healthy outcome. way can.