This evening I had the pleasure of meeting some very inspiring women (and one gentleman). Tonight was the first meet-up for the Science Grrl crew.

A few months ago, a very controversial video was commissioned by the EU to showcase and promote women in science.  The video was a teaser for a campaign, Science: It’s a Girl thing, which wanted to inspire women into a STEM career. The idea was sound, but the execution unfortunately wasn’t. The video had the scientific community up in arms. Have a look at it, and you will understand why.

The video goes beyond stereotyping women in science. It is patronizing and very condescending on top of it. The women in the video aren’t scientists, and aren’t doing any science! On top of that, they are being ogled at by a man, the only one who seems to be portrayed as doing some science. The website has even substituted the “i” in science with a lipstick, just in case you weren’t sure it is directed towards women. (In June the video was removed and the website has changed it’s look.)

Anyway, the video seemed to strike a nerve with some ladies in science who decided that they wanted to do something about it. So they set up Science Grrl. The initial idea was to create a calendar with wonderful pictures of women doing REAL science. The science they do as part of their every day research. It isn’t meant as a feminist movement, they do not wish to take over from men. They just want to show that there are some amazing women who do some amazing science. Within a few days of twitter discussions, the idea started to snowball.

Tonight, I got to meet some of the fantastic women that are either working behind the scenes, or who are going to be featured in this calendar. The conversation was very interesting, and I’ve written up only a handfull of the things that were discussed. I am only a fledgling scientist, having had very little experience of life as a female scientist so I was intrigued to hear about their scientific lives.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to how women were portrayed in science, and why women were often still being underrepresented. I was mostly just listening and taking in what they all had to say. A large proportion of the women had always worked in male dominated labs, and they were quite often the only female on the team. This could sometimes create problems, but it all depended on the team dynamic.

One of the grrls said that she got on very well with her team, and that she had a very good working relationship with her male superiors. Maybe it was because she had been in the lab for a few years now. She did mention that she noticed the newer, younger grrls were not as confortable in that environment.

The age of a male superior also seemed to be a possible issue. Most of the older supervisors had wives who stayed at home and looked after the house, leaving them free to work long hours and focus on their research. They often didn’t understand that a single female scientist would sometimes have to leave early to tend to her home. Or miss a morning off work to wait for the plumber.

One grrl had said that she had once worked in a lab with 10 women and only one man. This environment seemed to be very counterproductive. All the women were spending too much time mothering each other, checking if every one was okay instead of doing any real work. Things were completed at a painfully slow pace.

Working with men tending to cause difficulties for some of the grrls because the men found it difficult to relate to the grrl’s emotions. One grrl said that “men were able to compartmentalise their lives into personal and work” whereas her work was her personal life. She was so passionate about what she did that her emotions tended to have an effect on what she was doing. Men sometimes struggle with this, often asking why the grrls can’t come to in and focus solely on their work, leaving their emotional troubles behind them.

It was also mentioned that the men never really showed much excitement about their work. If they published a paper, they would all say “jolly good work, lets get on to the next thing.” Women on the other hand are more likely to take a step back and think “WOW! I just published a paper! This is awesome, lets go and celebrate.”

What I took away from this conversation was that it isn’t really that men consider themselves superior to women when it comes to science. It’s just the way in which they operate seems to be very different, and both men and women have difficulty in understanding how the other works. This isn’t just an issue in science, this is echoed through out many aspects of life. The key to overcoming something like this is improved communication. There are some men who need to learn to open up a little more, and then there are some women who may need to tone it all down a bit. Reaching a compromise so that every one can work together is what we need. How to go about that is something I don’t have the answer to.

Everything that we talked about this evening is something I have to look forward to experiencing myself. I know I am a very chatty person, and work best when bouncing ideas off other people. I do understand that this isn’t how everyone works, and I will have to figure out who doesn’t like it and respect that.

These Science Grrls are truly inspiring; they have achieved some wonderful things. I am glad to be involved with the project and am very much looking forward to seeing the Science Grrl 2013 Calendar when it is finished!

Science grrls, I invite you to leave your own thoughts on what it is like to work with men. Are you in a male dominated field? Do you have problems or do you find that you are treated as an equal?

Go to the orginal article here or listen below