Picture a scientist

Science not Silence

As a woman in science it feels: the men get a play book but the women don’t.

Picture a scientists describes the empowering women who have made science more accessible to women and minorites:

  1. Challenging equality in pay and resources for women (Nancy)
  2. Reporting inappropriate behaviour & prevent future abuse (Jane)
  3. Diversity in science communication & leading by example (Raychelle)

Did you know that 50% of STEMM staff and faculty [assume in the US] have experiences sexual harassment? This statistic is not improving.

Did you know that only 10% of sexual harassment are advances, assault or coercion? The vast majority are put-downs, subtle exclusions, fewer invitations to collaborate, opinions not as valued as their male colleagues, being overlooked for promotion or opportunities, and unfortunately the list goes on and on.

The academic hierarchy (student-supervisor, postdoc-professor) creates conditions in which harassment flourishes.

Lots if people do not see sexual harassment within their institution. Does that mean it does not exist there? NO! It is invisible and there is a shocking volume of data to say unequivocally
that this is a society problem and that women are disadvantaged in science.

There is a systematic and invisible discrimination against women

In our discussion we reflected on when we first observed the gender diversity issue. For most of us, it was no obvious until we were doing our PhDs or post-docs. That is the point were you experience academic culture, start attending conferences, observe the absence of more senior women, and perhaps, start observing/experiencing gender discrimination or microaggressions. There is still a culture where many men in science do not realise these issues exist.

Stereotypes hold people back. If you don’t fit the pre-conceived notion of what a scientist looks like (a cis white man) then stereotyping likely holds you back. Raychelle: “I did not want to be perceived as the angry black women”. Nancy: “I did not want to be seen as a nasty difficult woman”.

Each of the three women featured in the film described the large amount of time they wasted fighting the system. For Nancy, this was fighting the system for better conditions for Women Professors at MIT. For Jane, this was reporting her abuser and fighting to be heard. For Raychelle it was the everyday racism and stereotyping that she needed to navigate around in her communication with colleagues and her treatment within the University. The time they spent fighting the system is a drain on their emotion and physical well-being, and it is a drain on their energy that they would rather devote to their science.

Speaking out against sexual harassment and bullying is a risk. In the past there have been many examples of abusers being protected by the University as they are a ‘big name and bring in lots of grant money’. Often who report abuse often find themselves leaving academic. There are lots of reasons why people leave but how women are treated in academic is a big one.

A key task for improving the workplace culture of women in STEM is to acknowledge and understand our unconscious biases. Our biases are not malicious but are ingrained in us from a young age. We need to actively learn about our biases and work hard to overcome them.

Science should be a-political, where the best rise to the top. But this is not true, because it is a human endeavour.

Science is subject to all of our brilliance and all of our biases.

Being a good ally

Being a good ally: How to be proactive and use your privilege for good

Blog by Freya Garry and Penny Maher

Image by Daniel Quasar


We were joined by Met Office BAME network founder Misha Khan (she/her, Twitter @SuperMish651), the founder of the LGBT+ PRISM-Exeter network Claire Davies (she/her, Twitter @Tuffers_c), and our Met Office Sponsor and Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre Professor Albert Klein Tank (he/his). We had excellent attendance, with 74 participants joining us for the meeting.

Being a good ally requires taking the time to self-educate about discrimination in society and understanding your own privilege. However, it’s also important to create spaces where we can discuss how best we can help work towards a fairer society in an empathetic and productive way.

Our panellists started with a few points each before opening the discussion to include everyone. Our network lead Freya Garry chaired the meeting and opened the panel.

  • To be a good ally is to take on the struggles as though they are your own, while taking care to not assume you fully understand their struggles. Never devalue someone’s experiences.
  • Stand up when you feel scared. It will motivate others too.
  • Share your platform and acknowledge your privilege.
  • If you make a mistake, acknowledge it calmly (don’t get defensive), apologise (don’t over-do it and risk making it about you instead) and learn from it. We all make mistakes. But we can learn from it and try to do better next time.
  • Take responsibility for your own education of allyship.

Misha Khan then built on this with the following points:

  • Self-reflection is important to identify where you can learn. Knowing where to start can be complicated – break it down into smaller chunks.
    • What are my unconscious biases?
    • Knowing these, how can I do better? Branch out; for example, you can follow more diverse people on social media and learn more about other perspectives.
    • Be accountable and get educated (maybe focus on one event in time this month).

Claire Davies then added to the discussion with:

  • The importance of introducing your pronouns as an ally and using them in emails – this normalises the practise. We encourage our network sponsor to join us in this!
  • Be explicit in your actions and your language:
    • It takes constant effort to overcome stereotyping and our inherent biases
    • Understand your biases and learn how to identify when your perspective is being shaped by them.
    • Use gender neutral language
    • Allow space for people to introduce themselves and their partner/partners
    • Call out bad behaviour
    • Get a rainbow lanyard to show your support.
    • Come along to events such as this and those held by other networks such as the PRISM Exeter network.

We then invited our network sponsor, Albert Klein-Tank, to say a few words:

  • Different perspectives make better decisions.
  • We need allyship to feel valued, creative, safe and welcome in the workplace and in our community.
  • Amplify ideas and voices of others. Good ideas often come up in general conversations as well as formal discussions, so make time for these.

Some examples of effective allyship that were raised in the meeting were:

  • The magic of simply asking: How can I help?
  • It is hard to keep educating and directing others on how to be a good ally. Step in and help us. This takes some of the pressure off and share the responsibility.
  • Understand different cultures and how stereotyping in different cultures works.
  • Turning down opportunities to speak on panels or talk at conferences if the diversity is low. Offer suggestions to replace you that will provide more diversity. If you would like to participate, but see a diversity problem, politely email the organisers and ask if they have considered inviting a more diverse group of people.
  • Introduce yourself with your pronouns to help normalise the practise, which helps trans folks feel that they are not outing themselves just by revealing their pronouns.
  • Correct people if they make mistakes or say something you believe is incorrect. This is always a challenge but think of this skill as a work in progress. If you receive the correction, acknowledge it, apologise and learn from it.
  • There are ways to be an ally which are more active, and some more passive, but there are also ways to intervene subtly when you feel someone may be a risk or need comfort or assistance. Seize opportunities for bystander intervention training.
  • Learn about microaggressions, how to respond to them, call them out and how to report them if appropriate.
  • Understand your privilege: education, wealth, experiences, gender, sexuality, age, race, religion, nationality, disability, and body type.
  • Make your environment as inclusive as possible in order to be more diverse and recruit more diverse people.

Other points raised in the meeting included:

  • Do not feel burdened into saying yes. Instead, celebrate saying no! There are lots of opportunities to talk as a minority (many people working in diversity or who are visually members of minority groups get pigeonholed as ‘go to’ people) so you need to say no to opportunities and, if you like, provide suggestions on who they could extend the invitation to.
  • Reach out to networks such as Women in Climate if you want to diversify your speaker list for local events as we can offer the opportunities on to our network.
  • At the University, find out who the Speak Out Guardians, and at the Met Office there are the Dignity and Respect at Work team. Call on them if you need them – they are there because they want to help you.