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In science too, the workplace is a man’s world
- Study finds gender-based bias and a social structure where women are unwelcome

New Delhi, Nov. 3: In India and the US, women scientists seeking promotions sometimes have to answer questions about their families. In Germany, those who succeed get labelled by male colleagues as “dragons”.

Across the three countries, women engaged in science have to face hostile work environments and are excluded from social networks required to rise in the scientific hierarchy, a study has said.

A comparative analysis of the professional environment for women in science has revealed “common barriers” in the diverse social, economic and educational systems of these countries.

“Science is supposed to be a rational merit-based process but, in reality, gender-based bias has crept in,” said Namrata Gupta, a researcher at the department of humanities and social sciences at IIT Kanpur, a principal investigator of the study. She collaborated with researchers in Germany and the US to analyse the experiences of women academics from each country.

“In actual practice, science has a social structure dominated and hitherto regulated by men in which women find themselves unwelcome,” Gupta and her colleagues said in the study published in the latest issue of the journal, Current Science.

To find out women scientists’ experiences in India, Gupta contacted 82 women holding senior positions at IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Roorkee and Jadavpur University. The German collaborator surveyed 252 scientists, including 95 women, in nine institutions, while the US component covered 84 men and 13 women from 21 departments at Midwestern University.

The researchers have said women scientists face three burdens ' stress emerging from problems of working in a hostile environment; domestic responsibilities that fall disproportionately on them, forcing them to work harder than men to prove themselves; and exclusion from scientists’ social networks that often determine career progress.

In Germany, women are seen as “risky employees” who may temporarily drop out. Women scientists also reported receiving less recognition for their performance and being ignored during scientific discussions. Some German male scientists claimed that successful female colleagues had “turned into dragons” and were “no longer women”.

In India, women scientists facing appointment and promotion committees have to answer questions on family issues and commitment to the job. They reported that male students appeared to prefer male supervisors.

The study revealed a long list of “everyday slights” ' being left out of study groups, ignored in class and laboratory meetings, excluded from conferences and mistaken for secretaries.

In all three countries, the study revealed a male dominance in numbers. In India, women scientists make up only 7 per cent of the faculty in science.

None of the four institutions surveyed ever had a woman as dean or director.

“The exclusion from scientific networks leads to a lack of social capital which means lack of collaboration, contacts and recognition,” Gupta said.

The study has warned that such exclusionary experiences might interfere with scientific productivity.

The researchers have suggested that policies facilitating childcare, parental leave and flexible work schedules might offer possible solutions to some of these problems.

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