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Women and men not yet equal in science

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They get just a little bit less budget for travelling, spend less time on research, and get more temporary contracts; small differences that, added up, ensure inequality between men and women in science is still very much present.

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The National Network Female Professors (LNVH) proved two years ago that female researchers at universities make less money than their male counterparts. Depending on the job, the difference is anywhere from 41 euros (assistant professors) to 438 euros (professors) a month. And no, it’s not because they’re not as good at negotiating their salary, says the LNVH in a new study (in Dutch).

Non-financial differences
In the new study, researchers Belle Derks and Ruth van Veelen of Utrecht University focus on the non-financial differences between men and women in academia. Think, for instance, of obtaining a permanent contract, the division of educational and research tasks, and access to resources that make their jobs easier.

They asked over four thousand (assistant/associate) professors from fourteen universities about these ‘hidden differences’ at work, and conclude that the conditions scientists work in are less favourable for women than they are for men. The differences are small, but systematic, and women are at a disadvantage in every single thing, the researchers write. Added up, these small differences can lead to large-scale inequality, they say.

Duties
It starts with employees’ lists of duties: women tend to spend less time on research, and more on education. In the latter case, it’s a difference of 70 hours a year on average, which translates to nearly two full work weeks.

A possible explanation provided by the researchers is that women – due to gender bias – tend to receive less positive student evaluations and therefore have to work harder on this. Additionally, becoming a parent has a lot more negative consequences for women’s research time than it has for men’s research time.

Own office
Women also have less access to resources, such as travel budget, assistance, their own offices, and research resources. The researchers also studied an oft-heard explanation of these differences: that men are said to be better at negotiating their terms of employment.

Nonsense, the researchers say. In fact, it’s rather the opposite: it’s women, especially, who use occasions like performance reviews or obtaining research grants to discuss their terms of employment. Probably because they’re often in situations in which there’s a lot to be gained, the researchers suspect.

Negotiations
But those discussions don’t always end well. Women systematically experienced less room for negotiation than men, and felt less like their requests were taken seriously. They also felt more strongly that people felt they were asking too much.

Afterwards, women were generally less satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations than men, and felt uncomfortable about these talks more often, the researchers write. They say it doesn’t really look as though women aren’t negotiating as much as men, but they don’t get as much done as men do.

The LNVH sees the research results as an important contribution to the discussion about the system of compensation of scientists, and hopes universities, umbrella organisations, and research financers will take advantage of the outcome.

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