France leads way out of the malaise

Women and Scientific Employment
December 8, 2000

Why, when the percentage of women scientists in the workforce is increasing, do nearly all the top jobs still go to men? Why, with nearly equal numbers of men and women biologists, are there still so few women employed in physics and engineering?

These are important questions that Judith Glover, reader in sociology and social policy at Roehampton Institute, attempts to answer in this thought-provoking book. She shows that increasing proportions of women in scientific education and employment over the past three decades in Britain, the United States and France have not been followed by a subsequent increase in high-level positions. She reveals that, for all three countries, women scientists are concentrated in the lower levels of the salary scales, most being employed in the biological and chemical sciences, that together with mathematics, are the most popular science subjects for undergraduate study. Interestingly, the proportion of women mathematicians falls away at PhD level and in academic jobs.

Women in science have shorter spells of employment than men, and many leave the scientific workforce at a fairly early stage. If they do return (after having children, for example) it is often part time and/or at a lower level than before.

The exception is France, where many women scientists are employed full time by the civil service throughout their entire careers, showing a marked difference to the policy in this country where most government-funded research is based on short-term contracts. France is also the exception when it comes to women with jobs in engineering and computing, where the number of women has been steadily increasing, despite the fact that there is no active policy in France to promote women in science.

Glover continues with an extensive discussion of the causes of vertical segregation, suggesting a number of explanations, including "patriarchal exclusion" and also the fact that women scientists tend to be politically conservative and accepting of the status quo.

Another problem is that the culture of short-term research contracts discriminates against women, who tend to be less geographically mobile than men. From the perspective of this woman scientist, the implications of discriminatory employment practices go to the heart of scientific integrity: they are a sign of a wider malaise that encourages short-term agendas in research practice, and militates against thorough and reproducible research.

The book will certainly appeal to those interested in women’s representation in employment and, with its review of the literature on gender issues in employment, should be especially useful for those engaged in research. It is a little too wordy for my liking, and also the analysis is somewhat limited by the available data, much of them from studies carried out in 1994, and heavily weighted towards employment in academia. The author admits these limitations, and pleads for the collection of more discipline-specific data and information on the hierarchical distinctions within the disciplines, in order that a more effective social policy can be developed for women in science.

Anne Rosemary Tate is senior research fellow in CRC Biomedical MR Research group, St George’s Hospital Medical School, and visiting research fellow, School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, University of Sussex.


Women and Scientific Employment

Author - Judith Glover
ISBN - 0 333 68318 8
Publisher - Palgrave (formerly Macmillan Press)
Price - £42.50
Pages - 190

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