Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The New Chic Geek

This guest post was contributed by Tara Miller, who writes about an online science degree. She welcomes your feedback at TaraMillerr00 at

The science field has found it to be increasingly difficult to both attract women to the industry and keep them on once they are in it. With so many stipulations of women’s role in society, many of which remain in effect to this day, women have been forced to choose between a career and family over the past decades. This is not an easy choice to make, and many who are in the science academia field have had to fight their way to tenure, forcing them to put off raising a family or even becoming deeply involved in any personal relationships. However, more and more women have begun to prove themselves in the science industry, accurately balancing work and life, resulting in the new “chic geek”.

The science industry has enjoyed the attention it has been receiving since the start of the new [US] presidential administration. The heightened focus on science has come about as a result of the economic crisis, with science seemingly becoming the only way out of the dark. The Obama administration has therefore tried to make the field more appealing to recent grads, as well as encourage the amount of resources major projects receive. Appealing to women has thus far been a more difficult endeavor because of the many statistics that prove the field tends to harm their family life; it has become painfully obvious that achieving a PhD and later gaining tenure in a research science field drastically impairs a woman’s ability to have a stable family life. So far, only 44 percent of women in the industry are married with children, compared to 70 percent of men in comparable positions. This is indicative of an age-old battle that has been going on since women entered the business world: the balance of family and work.

While many women are forced to put their careers on hold in order to raise new children, most men have not had to make such a choice regarding their future. Unless you want to seemingly neglect your children for a large part of their lives, you will be forced to take some time off work, thereby falling behind other contenders for your future spot. The science industry has begun to find ways to cater to the new woman in the workplace in an effort to draw more people in general into the field. The Obama administration has worked to put into effect an executive order that would provide added family leave and parental benefits to recipients of federal grants, including many of the research scientists that have been struggling to keep up with their unmarried coworkers. Attracting women to the science field should not be as difficult as it has become (high school girls demonstrate increased knowledge of the science field but get turned away from it by grad school), but with the new administration’s focus on the science industry, we will hopefully garner more women into the field.


Barbora Dej said...

I'm happy to hear that there is hope for change for women in technical fields in terms of work and family balance. Just yesterday I phoned in to a radio station that was talking about how we're not making enough babies. I told them about all the conversations WISE has about children and our lack of support for having them. Felt good to say it out loud.

Jennifer said...

IMHO Canada is one of the countries that have the best work/life balance. Some of the European countries have longer maternity/paternity leave but more is not necessarily better. I have German counterparts who missed out on many promotions or other advancements in their careers given that they are not given a choice of less leave, if they wanted.

Take it from someone who lived in the US for the past decade and who had to leave her children to daycare after 12 weeks. The average maternity leave in the US for bigger firms is about 8-10 weeks. For firms with less than 25 employees, you might not even get any. Zero/zilch/nada.

Of course, I negotiated for less work (with less pay) to create the balance needed and yes, it probably affected my career path but who said that you can have it all?

I think that women who learn to navigate the peaks and valleys of their career will survive best.