Discrimination Still Plagues Science

Written by: Chris Woolston
Published on: Dec 1, 2021

scientist using a digital tablet
Photo credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

Social protest movements such as #MeToo and #BlackInSTEM have shone a light on the need for greater diversity, equity and inclusion at scientific institutions worldwide. And Nature’s 2021 salary and job satisfaction survey, which drew responses from more than 3,200 working scientists around the world, suggests that there’s much more work to do.

Just 40% of respondents felt that their employers were doing enough to promote diversity, down from 51% in 2018, when the survey last took place. A substantial minority of respondents said they had witnessed colleagues being subjected to discriminatory behaviour, and another sizeable minority said they had experienced such treatment themselves. The self-selected survey (see ‘Nature’s salary and job survey’) included a series of questions that explore attitudes and experiences relating to diversity. Follow-up interviews with selected respondents and free-text comments have helped to fill out the picture.

The respondents reflect the relative homogeneity in science in some parts of the world. Eighty-two per cent of respondents in the United Kingdom, 81% in Germany and 74% in the United States identified themselves as white.

The free-text comment section exposed conflicting viewpoints on an often polarizing topic. A late-career Asian woman working in geology and environmental sciences at a European university wrote: “Academics like to think of their community as free spirited and innovative, but there is massive systemic discrimination and power hierarchies that ruin people and careers … This is suffocating science and discouraging early-career academics.”

But a white male professor of social sciences in the United States offered a different perspective: “When I say I have experienced and seen gender discrimination, it has always been against males. For example, we were directly told during a job search that we could not hire a white male, even though our relative representation of women and minorities is higher than average for our field. White males have long felt there is little likelihood of approval for sabbaticals or positive promotion decisions from the dean and upper administration.”

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