500 Women Scientists is for all Women Scientists

500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization rallying together to work towards a society in which science is inclusive and the contributions of women are valued. We define “women” and “scientist” inclusively — anyone who supports self-identified women of STEM are welcome. We are not the first organization for women and like the countless organizations that came before us, we are not the first to have to explain why we choose to focus on women.

The challenge. Science has long been male-dominated and women continue to face barriers to building successful careers in science. Despite some incremental progress, a large gap persists and the retention [1] of women in post-graduate positions is still much lower than that for men. In spite of earning about half of all science and engineering degrees in the US, women comprise only 21% of full science professors and only 5% of full engineering professors, earning approximately 20–30% less than men [2]. Women remain underrepresented across many scientific disciplines, experience overt and implicit biases, and continue to face sexual harassment and discrimination. In addition, women are significantly underrepresented among the leadership within STEM fields, and early and mid- career women in STEM have fewer opportunities to obtain leadership experience [3]. Each of these things are challenging in isolation, but become insurmountable in concert, driving many women out of STEM entirely. For more on the gender and racial gaps that persist in science, we invited you to read our Scientific American Blog post.

Society tells us, and women tell each other, that we should not act like victims, and that if we become victims it is our fault. But we must remember that the problem is the system, not those who are experiencing harassment and discrimination. Women have been dealing with, and overcoming, these challenges for a long time. But we shouldn’t have to. And the energy we spend dealing with these issues would be better spent in furthering the cause of scientific research and inquiry. All women have faced discrimination or harassment whether subtly or overtly at some point during their scientific career. At the end of this statement, we share some of those experiences and invite you to share your own.

Growing an unapologetically feminist organization for women scientists. 500 Women Scientists formed immediately following the November 2016 US Presidential election, in part as a response to the open sexism, misogyny, and anti-knowledge rhetoric that was given a platform and voice in the US but that has also taken root across the world. We came together to speak against this kind of misogyny and also to help address the serious challenges women face every day in their scientific careers, to empower women with a voice, and to create a strong and supportive community.

500 Women Scientist Pods. We want women to be the sole leaders and drivers of this movement. We, the 500 Women Scientists leadership team, strongly believe we need to keep our organization focused on women. We must protect women’s spaces to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have at least one place they can call safe, where they can share their experiences freely and without judgement. Therefore, our pods support self-identifying women in science, including trans women and people of nonbinary gender. If you feel like our organization calls out to you, we invite you to join us!

Pods also provide a support space for women experiencing difficulties in their careers and for women who have felt shut down and marginalized. We place great importance on having spaces reserved for women. We therefore, we ask that our allies sit out of closed pod meetings.

Our allies. We ask men and non-scientists to be our allies (people who engage with us on established initiatives and support our work). We appreciate your support and we invite you to participate in public and open events and to support us in the following ways:

  • Sign our pledge as a supporter;
  • Join us for public events and social gatherings, and let us decide which events are open and which are not;
  • Mentor women scientists and help women achieve equality;
  • Join or start other organizations that advance diversity, gender equality, and/or science, and partner with us;
  • Speak up whenever you see discrimination, whether it be subtle or overt;
  • Make your personal and professional spaces safe for women and minorities.

Two of our male allies, Alan Townsend and Jonathan Foley have written a statement discussing how men can support women’s organizations — you can read their joint statement here and here.

We are still learning. As an organization, we are still learning. We welcome constructive dialog and we are open to hearing your perspective. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to be a source of support for all women scientists. For others, we ask that you respect our space and support us in ways that feel right to you.

Here are some examples of structural discrimination, subtle biases, and overt harassment we, the 500 Women Scientists leadership team, have experienced during our scientific careers. We invite you to share your own experiences anonymously with us.

  • Receiving a hug from an older male colleague who you do not know well after a professional presentation.
  • Being told that women make better graduate students because our handwriting is easier to read, and we are more organized and tidy.
  • White male lab-members complaining that there are no opportunities for white males.
  • Having your ideas dismissed because you are told you are young and idealistic — despite having a PhD and plenty of work experience.
  • Having a child while working for an institution with no maternity leave policy.
  • Being excluded from outside of work activities (such as drinks, skiing, biking, or recreational trips) taken by only male colleagues, where work — casual science chatter, papers, and proposals are inevitably discussed.
  • Being excluded from during-work activities (such as lunch, workshops, or conferences) where only male colleagues are invited.
  • Chastised to ‘respect’ the opinions of older male scientists when confronting their incorrect criticism of your work.
  • The feeling of walking into a room and questioning whether you belong.
  • Having a respected, more senior male colleague at a conference ask to meet with you to discuss your research and then make a pass at you. When you express your frustration with the encounter to a male peer, they dismiss you saying “You didn’t think he would actually want to talk about your research, did you?”
  • Have older, senior male colleagues comment on your ‘beauty’ and ‘prettiness’.
  • Being completely ignored by senior men in group meetings.
  • Being asked to take notes or get water for everyone (as the only woman in the room).
  • Overhearing a group of male colleagues discussing your anatomy and saying “if only her brains were as big as her boobs” and then laughing and high-fiving.
  • Getting a teleconference call to give a talk and having the moderator say “Oh, you’re a woman. I guess we can work with that.” (Guess you always need to go with Dr. First Last, rather than Dr. Last).
  • Being spoken over or interrupted in meetings.
  • Open hostility towards women on the internet (e.g. our AMA on Reddit).