Global movement demands action to support mothers in science
The Association for Women in the Sciences is one of seventeen organisations, representing hundreds of thousands of female scientists globally, who have come together to call on research funders to take immediate action to eliminate gender inequities in the funding system and promote inclusion of caregivers in the STEMM sector (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine).
The Action Plan for Funding Agencies—an effort led by Mothers in Science (MiS)—outlines a set of evidence-based policy recommendations aimed at closing the gender gap in research funding and eradicating the systemic biases suffered by mothers in STEMM.
Most researchers will become parents at some point in their careers. A pre-pandemic international survey conducted by MiS and partners identified systemic barriers that disproportionately penalise mothers in STEMM and contribute to the persistent underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these inequities, with potential long-term effects on the careers of female scientists with caregiving responsibilities, and particularly mothers of color.
“Our global survey identified deeply-rooted structural barriers and uncovered significant systemic biases affecting mothers in STEMM around the world,” said Dr. Isabel Torres, co-founder/CEO MiS and a mother of four. “These inequities are widespread in every STEMM sector and country that we analysed, and unfortunately COVID-19 has worsened the situation.”
Over the past few years, several initiatives have called for change, including an open letter released by MiS and 500 Women Scientists on 8 March 2021, yet decision-makers have not taken significant action to support mothers in STEMM and create an inclusive system for caregivers.
An international conference organised by MiS in May 2021 to raise awareness of these issues inspired a global movement to demand change for mothers in STEMM. Led by MiS, this movement united individuals and organisations from across the world to ask research funders to take immediate action and create meaningful change.
In their unique Action Plan for Funding Agencies, policies both specific and actionable include strategies for promoting research continuity and competitiveness, eliminating gender/maternity bias, and providing flexibility and support to caregivers. Each policy is referenced to examples of similar practices.
“Career advancement in STEMM academia depends entirely on securing research funding. It is time funding agencies step up and implement policies to eliminate gender and maternity bias in the grant evaluation process and to ensure an equitable distribution of research funding resources," added Dr. Torres.
Funding agencies are key players for systemic change and for closing the gender gap in STEMM, as access to research funding is fundamental for scientific production and career advancement. However, studies show that women have lower success rates in research funding due to gender bias, highlighting the urgent need for action.
Mothers in Science (mothersinscience.com) is an international non-profit organization that advocates for mothers and other caregivers in STEMM to increase retention of women in STEMM careers. We support, empower and increase visibility of mothers in STEMM and help organizations, employers and policymakers develop evidence-based interventions and policies for promoting equity and inclusion of caregivers.