The Communal Nature Of Science And The Gender Skills Gap

I've written a few times in the past about the increasingly collaborative nature of modern science. Most of the time, these posts have focused upon the productivity gains we see when scientists work together on research.

A recent paper suggests that an equally powerful reason to laud the virtues of collaborative working could be in attracting the next generation of scientists to the fold.

Changing perceptions

The study, from researchers at the University of Miami, set out to test whether attempts to shift perceptions of science away from the lone genius to a more social and collaborative endeavor might attract those that are not typically represented in the field.

The study saw participants reading a fictional account of a scientist's daily activities. Half of the participants read about a scientist going about their work in solitude, whilst the other half read a description of a more collaborative way of working.

They were then surveyed to understand their perceptions about working in the field. This simple method of framing the profession helped shift perceptions in the participants, so that those who had read about collaborative science reported that their social goals for their career would be met by working in science, and therefore they'd be more likely to pursue a career in the field.

Breaking the gender divide

What's more, these findings were consistent across the genders, so it shows that men value the communal aspects of science just as much as women do. It also didn't seem to matter too much if the scientist in the description was male or female.

That isn't to say that women aren't inspired by fellow women in science however. A second study depicted female scientists as having more traditional female interests outside of the workplace. Once again, when the participants were quizzed on their perceptions of science rated it as more communal when the female scientist enjoyed yoga in her spare time compared to more neutral activities such as running.

The authors suggest that framing science as more communal and collaborative in this way can widen access to the sector. This is especially so if any women used in such campaigns are allowed to be seen as exhibiting feminine characteristics.

Of course, this shouldn't be taken to mean that women have to act like stereotypical women, but more that when marketers set out to promote the profession, a more multi-dimensional perspective on the scientists could make a positive impact.

This can also be achieved by ensuring that the collaborative nature of science is promoted to its fullest by making it as accessible as possible. That this has many other advantages is surely a win-win.

This post was originally made on The Horizon Tracker