“Women scientists are often still invisible” – Solving the challenge of gender equality in science. An interview with Professor Patricia Gowaty

Patricia Adair Gowaty, Distinguished Professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles and PeerJ Advisory Board Member

Patricia A Gowaty, Distinguished Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles and PeerJ Advisory Board Member

We are delighted to be sponsoring Finding Ada an event celebrating women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). At PeerJ we believe the achievements of women deserve to be recognised, and we also take great importance in building gender equality within both our Editorial and Advisory Boards.

Between our own small team of eleven staff members at PeerJ we have 7 daughters and we want to ensure they have a future filled with opportunities where their gender won’t ever be an issue. By way of our own celebration in the months leading up to the 200th anniversary of Ada Lovelace’s birthday we wanted to highlight some of the women who make up our Editorial and Advisory Boards.

To launch the series of blog posts on this subject we talked to PeerJ Advisory Board Member Patricia Adair Gowaty, Distinguished Professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California , about gender equality in science. Here’s what she said:

Why do you think we need days like Finding Ada to highlight the great work women are doing?

Women scientists are often still invisible. If we are to recruit and retain women in the sciences, we must enhance the status of women in science. There is no better way than to highlight the scientific accomplishments of women.

At PeerJ we believe in gender equality and we strive towards this – why do you think this is important for science and the publishing of scientific research?

More than half the people in the world are girls and women. How will the science we do be inclusive of all of our questions, unless there is gender equality among those asking and answering the questions?

What more do you think could be done to encourage women into the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths?

Enhance the status of women scientists. Banish “perception bias”: Everyone’s personal problem! We must encourage others to understand and act to eliminate their biases, while pruning our own. Would-be scientists can easily see the entrenched bias against women and people of color. If we are to encourage women to enter STEM fields, it would help if the stories of women scientists could honestly reflect easy paths, rather than paths fraught with being sold short, nepotism, sexism, and racism. One needs to be at the table in order to “lean in”: Bring women to the table, which is what PeerJ is doing.

Which women inspired your scientific career and why?

Kathy Ralls, Jocelyn Crane, Margaret Morse Nice, and Jeanne Altmann stand out in my legend. Recently out of college, I worked at the Bronx Zoo (The New York Zoological Society in those days). For a short time Ralls, as Curator of Education, was my boss. She had three children while in graduate school, published her Harvard PhD thesis on olfactory communication in mammals in Science, laughed in the face of men who told her their science was too complex for her “pretty little head”. Knowing Kathy inspired me to try to be a scientist, and to laugh at those who would try to discourage me. Crane was a famous ethologist, whom Konrad Lorenz lauded as “watcher of fiddlers”. Knowing Jocelyn made me realize that I could be “a watcher of….” too. Margaret Morse Nice‘s work on life history, behavior, and ecology of song sparrows and her book, Watcher at the Nest, told me what I had to do to be “watcher”. And Jeanne Altmann‘s paper on sampling told me how to watch. I am grateful for what all these women taught me along the way.

What words of encouragement do you have for any women wishing to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and maths?

Doing science – thinking hard about the nature of things – is fun, and little compares to the intense satisfaction of making discoveries.

Note:

Patricia Adair Gowaty is Distinguished Professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles; Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Washington, DC. She is the editor of Feminism and Evolutionary Biology and co-author of the forthcoming The Theory of Mating: Reproductive Decisions Under Ecological and Social Constraints.

 

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