Parental challenges in science

We would like to highlight two Nature articles that we consider worth reading, regarding the ‘parenting penalties’ faced by women who are both scientists and mothers and why science needs a new reward and recognition system.

The first article, The parenting penalties faced by scientist mothers by Kendall Powell, discusses that starting a family at a key career stage comes at a cost to birthing parents and that many end up leaving the profession as a result.

Mothers in Science (MiS), an international non-profit organization that aims to boost recruiting and retention of women in science careers, conducted a survey and found that scientist-mothers published fewer papers compared with scientist-fathers. This gap increases over time; by nine years after having their first child, mothers had on average published ten papers fewer than fathers.

The second article, Why science needs a new reward and recognition system by Edyta Swider-Cios, Katalin Solymosi and Mangala Srinivas, notes that researchers with children or carer roles have struggled more than others during the pandemic, amplifying existing inequalities.

A survey conducted during the pandemic states that:

1.     reconciling work obligations with childcare responsibilities has been particularly challenging;

2.     gender bias persists; and

3.     some people benefited from working remotely.

On the bright side, most academic institutions have normalized working from home, which allows for far greater flexibility. In the long run, this is advantageous for scientists with carer responsibilities, and in general can improve work–life balance for everyone. Similarly, webinars and online conferences, while having certain limitations, are more accessible than their on-site counterparts to scientists who have fewer financial resources or less mobility. Therefore, hosting webinars and online conferences can greatly increase the diversity of attendees. The authors hope that issues such as the unequal carer responsibilities, evaluation criteria that make it more difficult for women and minority groups to advance their career, and a lack of diversity and gender balance in scientific panels and among invited speakers and those in senior roles in academia will continue to receive attention after the pandemic ends.

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