Let’s Get Honest About Women In Science

There has been a good deal written recently about women in the scientific workforce. It’s not a new conversation, but I’ve been reconsidering why more of us aren’t forging ahead in STEM while preparing a talk for Women’s History Month.

I’ve posted many, many, many times about the unique obstacles we face in academia. Women lack visibly successful role models, face a good deal of gender discrimination and, at times, sexual harassment, and – most importantly – the academic lifestyle is not ideal for raising a family. I’d like to focus on that last one.

As a new mom, I will return to work on Monday–when my son is just nine weeks old. I am fortunate to have a flexible schedule, supportive husband, and wonderful colleagues, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. When I discuss motherhood, there are usually comments about how fathers are ignored in the conversation. So first let me be perfectly clear: Partners are extremely important and often play a very active role in childcare. But there are also significant differences.

Here’s a big one: When I fly out of state on Thursday, there’s suddenly a lot more to figure out. No one prepares you for traveling with a breast pump or explains how to freeze enough milk for the day. And that’s only the beginning. There are lots of little and big things like that we just don’t talk about in academia. I think balancing a family and career would be easier if we have these conversations. Openly.

What I know for sure is that no matter what else I do – whether I write more books, move back into research, or return to policy – the most important job I will ever have is being a mom. Not every woman in science will decide to be a parent and not all of us will choose to stay in the scientific workforce, but if the goal is to get more women into positions of influence in STEM, there’s one clear solution. We must make these two more compatible.