I want to share a story. The story is not my own but that of Amina, a ‘woman in science’.
Amina told me her story a few years ago, as part of an investigation I was conducting into women’s experiences in science. The story documents her journey to become a physicist, her passion for research, her persistence and failures.
The story also highlights another important issue: Amina is not just a woman physicist. Amina is also a Muslim, a Turkish migrant to the Netherlands, and a single mother.
Amina entered the tenure-track system with excitement and ambition. She was the only woman in her research lab. She was frequently confronted with the question ‘How do you reconcile physics and religion?’
Amina used to work long hours at the lab and traveling for conferences, until she had her first child. As a single mother, she had to rely on day-care in order to attend meetings and events. ‘Am I a bad mother?’ she would often wonder.
So, what do we do? We take short-sighted measures that aim to ‘fix’ women
In the year she decided to leave academia, she found herself trying to avoid being in a room alone with her manager. ‘I didn’t know what it was exactly… a combination of his look, words, and proximity that just didn’t feel right.’
Amina’s story is her own story, but is also not at exception. Women are stereotyped, they get cited fewer times than men, they face challenges in trying to get promoted, they are paid less than men, they are harassed in laboratories, they are lonely in rooms full of men.
So, what do we do? We take short-sighted measures that aim to ‘fix’ women: to make them more resilient and to enable them to navigate a broken system. Women do not need to get fixed.
Academia needs to be fixed through a systemic and multifaceted long-term plan, so as to become a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone, not in spite of identity differences and gender performances, but because of them.
Amina is not a woman in science; she is a scientist.