Biases about women in science seem to persist: 'We are more conservative in the Netherlands than we often think'

Biases about women in science seem to persist: ‘We are more conservative in the Netherlands than we often think’

Who do you think of when you hear the word “scientist”? This year, for the first time, more women than men have PhDs. However, the Netherlands still lags behind when it comes to job opportunities for women in science.

Within Europe, the Netherlands comes at the bottom of the list when it comes to the number of women working as associate professors, lecturers or professors.

Often high positions

For example, only 25.7 percent of professors are women, according to figures from the National Network of Female Professors (LNVH).

The fact that women are less likely to hold senior positions is due in large part to stereotypes about female scientists, says LNVH director Ledwin Borthoys.

Not surprisingly

Not surprisingly, there are more female PhD students than men for the first time.

“The percentage of female doctoral students has been very high for some time. Last year it was also about 50 percent, including in the health sciences field. What we see is that the share moving later to a higher academic position is not a reflection of this.”

The scientist is not a woman

According to her, this is about biases that come into play, for example, when selection committees evaluate women for a higher appointment or position.

“There, women still suffer from that standard image we have of what an excellent world is. And this is simply not the image of a woman. This is still an image of an old man who is white in general.”

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Children draw a man

Associate Professor Saskia Lindaud says this can sometimes be seen literally. “Sometimes I give lessons to guests in primary schools. Then I send my job description to the teacher to read to the children.”

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“The children then have to draw the one who, in their opinion, belongs to the job description. It turns out that almost all the boys and girls drew a man.”

“Women don’t feel at home”

Borthes explains that these kinds of stereotypes do not disappear after childhood, but also play a role in the scientific world later on. As a result, women, if they have already reached a higher position, often drop out of school.

“Scientific culture is based on the male model. It is a very individualistic culture with a strong hierarchy. Moreover, sometimes there is simply no place for things like maternity leave or combining work and care responsibilities. You feel at home there. It is understandable that you will look after So elsewhere about your salvation,” you think.

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Lots of female talent

Associate Professor Lindhood, who has studied molecular sciences, can confirm this sentiment. “What I hear often when I complain that I’m one of the few women is that they said ‘Yes, but when I started studying there were fewer women?'” “

“That wasn’t the case in my case. But we also see it in this year’s female PhD population: There is simply a huge pool of talent. That excuse ‘there is no one’ isn’t true anyway.”

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An integral part of the culture

But how do these kinds of stereotypes arise? This is not so straightforward, says sociologist and university lecturer Margaret Van Heck. “I would say there is very little in our culture of attitudes about gender. The media plays a role in that, and so do peers, teachers, and parents.”

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According to the sociologist, these views are self-reinforcing. “If reading is more encouraging in girls because we think girls like and excel at language, it is not surprising that girls are actually better at language later in life.” This confirms the stereotype. “This ensures that fathers start reading more with their daughters, and so on,” Van Heck says. “And so the cycle was completed.”

The need to change the culture

In the Netherlands, we often don’t realize our own prejudices, says Ledwin Borthoys. “If you look at how tolerant we are in the Netherlands and how we actually respond, we are often wrong. This is clear from large comparative European studies. We are actually much more conservative than we think.”

In order to remove the latter’s barriers to women, a cultural change in the academic world is necessary, says Portis. “A lot is being done about this. For example, all committees that appoint professors now receive ‘bias training’: training to recognize their biases.”

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Every year a teacher

Borthes says the positive outlook is also in order. “You can take it negatively: It’s been over 100 years since we hired our first female professor, Joanna Westerdijk. Now one in four professors is women. Then you think, oh my God, did it take us 100 years?”

But over the past five years, it has experienced exponential growth. “Every year we achieve new milestones. Last year, for example, for the first time in every three associate professors, at a job level below a professor’s, they were female.” This is a hopeful picture, says Portis. “There is only an upward trend.”

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