A vision for the 21st century workplace

I feel a bit of a fraud complaining about the discrimination of women in science because in my current job I’m one of four women in a discipline with only nine faculty members, our head of school is female and so is our head of discipline. I also don’t have any children so I haven’t had to deal with the problems that go along with that. However, I’m not blind; I can see there is a problem! I don’t want to re-hash the problems women in science face in this post; particularly as they’ve been so well covered elsewhere (there have been lots of really cool blog posts about this following the recent Moss-Racusin et al. paper in PNAS). Instead I want to think about potential solutions.

In March I attended a WiSER (Women in Science & Engineering Research) workshop where over 30 professional women drafted a “Vision for the 21st century workplace”. Some of these I agree with, some I don’t. Some will be easy to implement, others will be extremely difficult. In summary we proposed to:

  1. Provide options for flexible working hours and part-time work to all staff without endangering their career progression.
  2. Evaluate staff based on performance and results achieved rather than on number of hours worked.
  3. Implement family friendly policies for men and women.
  4. Promote female role models (I think this is REALLY important! It’s scary to name the top people in your field and realize most of them are male…).
  5. Employ a temporary quota of 50:50 women:men at leadership levels (I’m not so sure that biasing things this way is a good idea, surely we want the best person for the job? But see 10).
  6. Introduce transparency on salaries.
  7. Achieve transparency on promotion criteria.
  8. Arrange on-site childcare.
  9. Facilitate staff with a work from home option.
  10. Ensure recruitment and interview processes are gender blind (this is really important given the Moss-Racusin et al. paper which shows these processes are currently biased against women, even when women faculty are in charge!)


Flexible working is clearly something we all want (points 1, 2, 3, and 9 are about flexible work hours) but we need to think about how to do this effectively. The problem with working from home (or at unusual hours) is you can’t do everything from home, e.g., meetings with students and colleagues, and of course teaching. You also miss out on vital opportunities to socialize with your colleagues and students (my best ideas always happen at lunch time or in the pub). I feel like this is a loss not only to the individual, but to the functioning of whole departments. How can we solve this problem? Skype? Online lectures? What do you think?

A big question then is can any of these actually be done? Well our school (Natural Sciences) and the School of Chemistry have been chosen to pilot some new ideas at TCD over the coming year. We’ve even got some money to spend on it! So watch this space…


Moss-Racusin, CA, Dovidio, JF, Brescoll, VL, Graham, MJ, Handelsman, J (2012) Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109.abstract***

Centre for Women in Science & Engineering Research (WiSER) http://www.tcd.ie/wiser/twist/


Natalie Cooper


Photo credit

Towards Women in Science and Technology

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