Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Women and Science, again

Actually, women and any career, again. There have been numerous posts about a recent report on the lack of women in science and technology careers*, pointing to the sexism and macho culture as the main reason women leave these careers. Needless to say the comments on some of those posts have been frustrating. My least favorite comment by far, and more than one person has made this comment, is that motherhood and [insert time-consuming and challenging career here] are not compatible. Let me point out that no one ever says fatherhood and [time consuming career] are not compatible. Why? And why do people say that motherhood and careers are incompatible? There is an underlying assumption that women, because they physically give birth (though not always), a) will need to/want to devote more time to childcare than a man who does not give birth and b) no one else will be there to do the childcare. Fatherhood is not incompatible with a career because there's an assumption that a) he does not want to/need to devote time to childcare and b) there's someone else to do the childcare.

I call BS. Yes, caring for a child takes time and effort and that time and effort should be split equally between the parents (unless, of course, there's only 1 parent). That means that the mothers often have to ask for that time. And it means that they need to not feel guilty about asking for that or about working instead of spending time with the kids. A lot of the time that I see women put in with their kids is out of a sense of duty brought on by other mothers. It's not that they put that pressure on purposefully. It's that when your husband comes home from the play/birthday party/soccer game and explains he was the only dad there, one might feel pressure. And it means dads need to step up to the plate and not wait to be asked. I have seen far too many dads who have no clue what's going on with their kids, have no idea what their schedule is, are just completely out of it. Our culture encourages that, unfortunately. And these comments reveal that that is the case.

This blogger is correct. What we need is to remove those obstacles: provide childcare, encourage men to be involved fathers, create a hospitable work environment. I think what's happened is that there's been not only the assumptions made above, but also the assumption that it's 2008 and this shouldn't be an issue anymore and it's just because women choose not to hold heavy-duty careers. Employers and institutions need to get more proactive about creating policies and insisting upon an atmosphere that's not just accepting of women, but welcoming and encouraging. Far too often, I think they assume that because they've hired some women, they've done their job for equality.

*more links in the second post.