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Nearly Half of US Female Scientists Leave Full-Time Science After First Child (nature.com)
88 points by chriskanan 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments

My wife and I are both STEM PhDs, and she left research after our first child was born; we could be a case study for this article.

For us, it was because her field (immunology) was simply less lucrative than mine (computer science). Given the differences in gender distributions between both fields, and the pay gap between fields, I think simplifying this as STEM collectively isn't sufficiently granular. I wonder what the rates are for "left CS after child" vs "left biology after child", and how they compare.

With that being said, it's likely that there are also systemic/structural differences as well; research (and academia in particular) is notorious for poor work-life balance (prior to tenure). Social undercurrents of expectation towards primary caregivers would certainly have some influence as well.

I know it shifts the narrative slightly, but I would also be interested to see the effects of PhDs on birthrates, broken down by field, gender, and country of birth. It seems to me that it would be negatively correlated, but I don't have the data to back up that observation.

I have yet to be told why it is important for there to be as many women in STEM as men apart from statements that I'm sexist for not knowing

I don't personally think it's necessarily important for there to be "as many women in STEM as men." But I do think those women who want to be there shouldn't be de facto run out by sexist practices.

I was a full-time wife and mom for a lot of years. I don't self identify as a feminist. But, post divorce, I've found that sexism has been a real issue in establishing an adequate income to support myself and my sons.

So I think society still has work to do. It's very problematic to deny people a means to support themselves and then act like their poverty is due to laziness or the like. That kind of "fuck you" has been known to foment bloody revolution.

Do you think a stay home dad with equal employment gap would have an easier time rejoining a workforce ?

I have no idea. But I'm willing to guess he faces lower odds of being asked for a date by senior personnel in the better-paid department he would like to work in, thereby de facto closing doors in my face.

I am not trying to argue sexism/bias does not exist but from my experience any gaps in employment are a flag used to filter out candidates so in this particular scenario that might be the main problem to overcome.

That's super disgusting if that happened to you :( Maybe at some point we need to stop interacting in person completely and instead use gender-less avatars with their own voices so that we can bypass both sexual harassment as well as trying to land better positions by our own physical attractiveness.

I do--speaking as a single-dad who spent a few years working as a consultant and would never work more than 6 months out of the year (I always took time off during school breaks, summers, etc.). When I've applied for jobs over the years, I've never once been asked to explain those gaps. Of course, they were rarely longer than 6 months ... but there were quite a few of them. I've never even had the impression an employer has ever looked at those employment gaps before.

Hell, when I started my career--as a single father--I had no experience beyond what I'd done learning how to program on my own ... and I still had relatively few questions asked beyond me proving in an interview that I knew what I was talking about.

6 month gap when working as consultant is hardly comparable to say 6 year gap.

Yep. I specifically called out that the gaps were quite short.

If you're comfortable, could you describe some of your experiences facing sexism? Did you experience this after you released information that you're a divorced parent?

I have a Certificate in GIS. I worked at a Fortune 500 company for over 5 years in a Pink Collar Ghetto department. I wanted a job in the IT department, where jobs generally paid better.

In all the years I worked there, I met only one person who knew what GIS was without me having to explain it. He was a senior programmer in the department I wanted a job in.

He asked me for a date, thereby making it vastly less likely that I would be able to work there (in his department).

I'm sure he stopped to think about whether or not it would tank his career to date me. No, it wouldn't.

I'm equally sure he didn't bother to wonder how the question would impact my future at the company.

(I'm sure he also never wondered what my educational background might do for the company. I imagine he would have wondered if I could do something for his department if he hadn't been thinking of me as a sex object.)

I also appear to be the only woman to have ever spent time on the leader board of HN. Over the course of nine+ years, I've established exactly one useful contact through HN.

I've been endlessly mocked for thinking I could use HN to network and put up with endless crap that I don't really want to get into.

A piece of my writing hit the front page in January. It got more than 60k page views.

This did not result in a single tip or new Patreon supporter.

Instead, someone wrote me around the same time about a two month old comment where I talked about being suicidal over the sexism I face on HN. He offered to do a fundraiser for me out of sympathy.

I wrote back and said I would rather be taken seriously for my work and pointed him to the piece with 60k+ page views. He didn't reply to that.

I am routinely treated like a charity case, not like someone with something of value to offer that's worth money.

I'm on day six of a fast that is partly rooted in waiting for a deposit I expected Friday and still don't have and partly rooted in my inability to figure out how to turn my skills into money because I have the wrong bits between my legs to get taken seriously and paid for my work.

I too have been discriminated against due to my gender.

One of the first jobs I took (in IT) was for a large regional airline. After I had worked there for about a year, a position opened up that would have amounted to a promotion, both in pay and position. I had both the experience for the position, as well as a good reputation in the company. Further, my supervisor (with whom I had a good relationship) was in charge of the hiring effort, so I figured I had a pretty good in. Ultimately I was passed over for the position because my supervisor was a socially awkward man who used his position in the company to hire attractive women in hopes that they might one day sleep with him. He ended up hiring an (attractive) woman that worked nearby in accounting. She had no IT experience. I left because of this, and he hired two additional (unqualified) women this way before he got a little too touchy-feely and ended up fired.

I'm a man, in case you're wondering.

About ten years later I was working for a large healthcare provider. A position opened up for a senior software engineer and most of the software engineers in my department applied for it. Ultimately the head of IT ended up hiring an (attractive) data scientist from a different department, who had no experience in project management or software engineering. Everyone thought it was super weird until it came to light that he had hired her because she was his mistress and he was looking for a way to spend more time with her without arousing suspicion. He was also fired.

More years later, I put in a very competitive bid for some programming work with a company whom I had previously done contract programming work and had a good relationship with. Ultimately they selected someone else for the contract. Since I knew the owners, I contacted them directly to ask if there were anything I could have done to improve my bid. They explained to me that because they were a minority owned business (women) and were both of under-represented orientations (they were both lesbians) that they needed to select a contractor that reflected that, so they paid nearly twice as much to a small startup whom they had heard was also owned by lesbians. The project failed and they ended up paying almost three times as my bid.

Nobody I mentioned ended up ruined. The first two moved on to other jobs. The company that paid three times as much? Still around. They all paid a penalty for their bad decisions, though. Some people never do. Some people are just awful and life rewards them for it. It's not fair, but all you can really do is move on, try again, and do your best not to get bitter about the cards you've been dealt. I hope things get better for you.

You weren't particularly discriminated against due to your gender but rather fell a victim of both incompetence and immaturity.

Whether actual gender discrimination is also incompetence and/or immaturity is up to discussion. But it seems to still be acceptable in some places in the US. I hope Western Europe is doing better, but I don't know.

How does that work?

I don't think asking job candidates out on dates is especially smart or professional, but the comments here seem backwards.

If a man asks a woman out on a date, that means he DOES want to spend more time with her ... like at work. Even if the woman were to say no, he might still want to give her the job, just because he likes her. This is discrimination to the woman's advantage should she choose to take it.

If a man refuses to hire another man because he'd rather hire a woman so he can try to date her, that means he does NOT want to spend time with that man. This is to the man's disadvantage.

There is clear discrimination in both these stories, against the men and in favour of the women. DoreenMichele may have felt she couldn't work with a man who asked her out on a date, but plenty of people do manage it. And of course men can ask women out on dates without perceiving them as "sex objects", that's itself a kind of bizarre assumption or even insult to men. Men and women date successfully all the time without objectification coming into it.

Doreen, what jobs do men with similar to your skills get? What skills do you work on to improve your chances? Do you believe you have expressed well enough to the requiter your willingness to contribute and help move the organization further?

On a side note, I come from a place where we had communism and as a consequence women in science are marginally a majority (the country is Bulgaria). The vast majority (80%) of the IT reqruiters here are female and despite of that they still target, interview and hire 90% of the times male candidates. I really wish I could tell if the cause is prejudice or merit, but I can't.


I've barely eaten for six days because I'm so broke. I said so in the comment.

I don't doubt that I sound particularly negative in the comment, but your comment amounts to monstrous callousness of exactly the sort that fosters my negative perspective.

I think you are wrong to claim current business practice as "sexist". Ideally, it would be nice for single parenting be as easy as traditional family, but in reality, nobody is entitled to easy life.

Traditionally, people can also help each other through big family, church and other local communities. The new generation does not want to be involved in any of these. Now they want the government and their employers to bear more responsibility to support their personal life.

What evidence do you have that current business practice that parent comment is facing and calling "sexist" is not sexist? Parent comment does not elaborate on the sexism she faces. You should be comfortable saying this only if you know that every aspect of current business practice is not sexist.

What evidence do you have that current business practice that parent comment is facing and calling "sexist" is not sexist?

~ Do you have any evidence showing single dads get better treatment than single moms?

> evidence showing single dads get better treatment than single moms?

This is not the question that needs to be shown; while parent comment is indeed a single mom, she cited sexism as the obstacle. This is not necessarily due to her particular circumstance as a single mom but may refer to discrimination that all women face.

Sexism is easier to show, due to the intense research on it. Not knowing a priori her experience, every year research comes out of some think tank about gendered discrimination in the workplace; a google search should return results.

Single dad here. Not just some guy who isn't married and had kids. I've had custody for the better part of the last 15 years.

During my time as a single dad, I began my career in in programming. I started working for others. I now work for myself. In that time ...

- Zero female superiors have asked me on a date.

- Zero female coworkers have asked me on a date.

- Zero female coworkers have commented on or complimented my appearance--I'm no Brad Pitt, mind you, but I also don't look like someone took a hatchet to a picket fence. The closest I've gotten to a female commenting on my appearance is someone saying she thought I looked a little like Mark Wahlberg.

- Zero comments have ever been made when I've shown up late due to something kid-related (like school being delayed and dropping them off at school 2 hours later than normal).

- Zero comments have ever been made when I leave earlier than everyone else for something kid-related (like picking them up from school).

- Zero comments have ever been made when I've missed entire days due to something kid-related (like a kid being sick, or a school holiday (which I've always taken as work-from-home days so I could be with them)).

- Zero comments have ever been made when I've taken a break mid-day to attend a school function. I do the function, come back asap, and get back to work without a hiccup.

- I've never been asked if or how kids (or being a single parent) might impact my work.

- I demand a higher salary explicitly because I have kids to support, want to provide them a good life, and I have never had that questioned.

- I have never once been asked to compromise when I say I cannot do something because it conflicts with my parenting, my kids' activities, or something I've planned to do with them. When I say I have something to do with my kids, that ends the conversation, because I do not have a partner who can do these things and they know this.

- I have never once had a client question if my kids will get in the way of 6-figure contracts.

- I have never once had a client complain or ask me to compromise when I decline to do something or cannot get to something because it interferes with my kids or parenting.

- I've never been denied a raise when I've asked for it, despite the fact that I openly do not compromise my time with my kids.

- I have never been denied a promotion when I've sought after them, despite the fact that I openly do not compromise my time with my kids.

I could continue to dig deeper if you'd like.

> Traditionally, people can also help each other through big family, church and other local communities. The new generation does not want to be involved in any of these. Now they want the government and their employers to bear more responsibility to support their personal life.

This comment reeks of being an outsider who does not have the slightest clue what being a single parent is like.

Your notions of these "traditional" means of people helping each other are anchored in a past that does not strongly exist in many areas today.

- Big family => what if you don't have one of those? what if family is far away?

- Church => what if you're not religious? what if (gasp!) church isn't terribly fond of single parents--especially single mothers--and treat them in a way that denigrates their humanity because they happen to be unwed parents?

- Local communities => like what? single parent groups? homeless shelters? something else? Most of these kinds of communities offer emotional or social support in some degree--say, people you can talk to about the struggles of being a single parent--but they cannot help you put food on the table, provide clothing and shelter, or buy diapers. That's what having a job is for! Single parents don't want to wind up in a homeless shelter because they cannot afford to support their children.

I don't know what this new generation is in your eyes, but having been and known an awful lot of single parents over the last 15 years, I've never seen any of them want the government or their employers to bear responsibility to support their personal life. What they want is a fair shake at the job market, to be treated like everyone else, to have a bit of flexibility when their kids need it, and to never have their kids brought up as a liability in their employment lives. I've never seen a single parent believe they're entitled to an easy life. I've seen a lot of single parents struggle with navigating society and job markets that seem to want to ignore the reality of single parenthood.

Every single mother I've known has been hit on, asked on dates, had overt sexual advances made toward them physically and verbally--hey, she's a single mom, so you know she puts out, right?--had comments made toward them about their kids, experience a complete lack of flexibility when it comes to pay and schedule ... and a host of other things that directly contradict my own experience for 15 years as a single father. I think it's pretty fair to call out the inherent sexism in the general job market--and even in tech specifically. It's pretty ridiculous.

Equality of outcome is a fool's errand and a quick path to authoritarianism.

What we need is equality of opportunity.

We don't need to even strive for a 50/50 M/F split in STEM, parenting, dance, healthcare, martial arts, etc. for everything we do in society. The majority of men and women might have very different interests and we want people doing what they're interested in and what gives them joy, not pushing them to do something the majority of their gender isn't usually interested in.

But, when it's not close to a 50/50 split it's fair to ask why. Are men and women being given the same opportunity to join and be successful?

If it's because men and women on average are different then nothing is wrong. But if it's because men aren't hiring women because of a bias then something is wrong.

And historically we've been willing to give special treatment to those who are underrepresented to help correct past biases.

So, yes the pendulum might swing from a bias to a quota before it goes back to equality. We see this in college admissions and people are starting to want to swing it back to equality which is fine once the initial biases in the system become rare enough that striving for diversity becomes the biggest bias in the system.

Of course this is very difficult to measure and is largely influenced by culture and wether you've historically received preferential or biased treatment.

Equality of opportunity over equality of outcome is such a contrived argument. Equality of opportunity is arguably harder as it implies a just society. What are you willing to give for equality of opportunity? Higher taxes? More liberal zoning? Desegregated busing? Affirmative Action?

Equality of outcome means an external force like the government will step in to correct a situation such that person A gets the same results as person B. That can be income, job opportunities, taxes, etc. and it quickly disincentivizes hard work because the desired outcome has already been decided before you start.

For a less sensitive example, imagine how hard football teams would practice if the NFL wanted the equality of outcome with each team winning the Super Bowl every 32 years. The worse my team is the harder the league has to try to make my team win which is great for me but bad for competition. And if I just won, I have no reason to try because the league doesn't want me to keep winning and will do whatever it takes to stop me from hogging all the trophies.

Equality of opportunity means an external force will step in to correct a situation to ensure that person A and person B are playing by the same rules.

Back to the OC, we should be obsessed with a level playing field in STEM but not obsessed with a 50/50 ratio.

Because I think it's the only way we have to measure that there are no cultural barriers for women entering STEM professions.

I've often theorized that much of the widely talked about pay gap has to do with either professions that women often wish to work in - or that society steers them to - but I dont know enough to know if its personal preference, or sociocultural bias driving personal preference.

In the end, pay equality and open doors are important things, and is something we as a society should work on.

Actually, women are favored for tenure track STEM jobs: https://www.educationnews.org/higher-education/study-women-f...

So yes, there is sexism in academic STEM hiring: 2:1 in favor of women.

For the same reason its important for there to be as many women in mining, oil rigging, heavy industry, and forestry.

Are you being facetious? Obviously labor intensive work does not reap the same benefits from diversity of perspectives as scientific or creative fields.

Are you being facetious? How does science benefit from a diversity of genitalia? I'm not saying women should or shouldn't do this or that.. but the irrational compulsion to force equity between the sexes is stupid. Providing equal opportunity is good. Forcing equal outcome is evil.

I believe what I said was that science benefits from a diversity of "perspectives".

But go on, rant against those straw men if it makes you feel better.

Gender quota != diversity of perspective

You haven't explained how diversity of sex/gender contributes to diversity of perspectives. Also, are you happy to hire white nationalists and racists in the name of "diversity of perspective"? If not, then you're not being honest in your argument...

Don’t forget garbage collection and janitorial.

Except there isn't.

The closer your field's demographics are to your society's, the lower the risk of (unconscious) bias is. Science as a whole should strive to be as unbiased as possible, as that's the closest we can get to objectivity.

The same logic applies to businesses, to reduce the risk of making mistakes that come with echo chambers.

Using Swedish statistics from a few years ago, 12.5% of the population has a professional job which has at minimum 40% men and 40% women. 88.5% do not. Split per gender this was 88.4% for men and 88.6% for women.

If we state that bias is a risk then we must conclude that around 90% of the population work in echo chambers (more if we find that 60/40 is still quite bad segregation) and could use the benefit of reduced risk of mistakes. It would be interesting to hear what suggestions people have to address this generally so that the 88.4% of men and 88.6% women can reduce the risk.

Could you explain what point you're making? I can't tell if you're disagreeing with me or not.

Not an disagreement, but rather a remark. What ever the effect of gender segregation is, it would then be practically universal here because thats how the data look like.

In India there is a more equal split between women and men in the STEM fields, yet women are much less liberated then in Western countries. The reason being is that women there are forced to enter whatever career gives them the biggest paycheck, which happens to be STEM.

So, I'd say your assumption is incorrect.

I'm not saying it benefits the public necessarily, I'm saying it benefits those who opt for diversity. I don't expect STEM to have as big an impact on women's liberation as, say, business or politics. I don't think two cultures can be compared on this basis, my assumption is that, within one culture, diversified organizations will win out on average.

But diversity is only valuable to the extent that it helps create a better society. Like, ideally noone would even have to work! And there are plenty of examples of segregated (i.e. non-diverse) situations that we support becaues we deem them socially beneficial (e.g. sex-specific gyms and toilets, tall people competing in basketball, smart people are scientists, ...) (to be precise, personally I don't support these, but our society seems to, which would imply that the people on average do).

I think it depends in the task, and what the interest of the various groups are. If you have 10 engineers but only 2 of them are really passionate about it, and the other 8 would rather be doing something else, but due to incentives based on their minority status, they decided it was worth the extra money, you'd probably do a lot worse than a company which had 10 engineers that were all hired based on merit.

> The closer your field's demographics are to your society's, the lower the risk of (unconscious) bias is.

That's only true if all biases cancel each other out perfectly.

No, because this isn't a binary result. If group a and b both have bias 1, that bias won't be cancelled. But if they differ on bias 2, the combined group has less bias than a or b while not having 'cancelled all biases perfectly'. Perfection is a false goal while 'lower risk' is attainable and worthwhile.

Fair enough, let's forget the word "perfectly". Let's have a "practical" example. A society is made up of 99% "ethnic Germans" and 1% Jews. The year is 1933.

A faculty is made up of 90% "ethnic Germans" and 10% Jews. According to the hypothesis, getting that makeup closer to the societal demographics will result in a "lower risk of bias".

I hope it is now obvious to see that the hypothesis is a non-sequitur.

How is that a counter-example? They diverged from the overall population to an extreme level (one demographic over-represented by a 10x factor compared to the overall population) and also had an extreme level of bias (imprisoned and murdered a specific demographic).

The specific values are irrelevant, for the hypothesis to be true, it has to be true for all cases.

Let's take another example:

A planet somewhere in the milky way galaxy is populated equally by Red, Blue and Green Octopodes. They are biased differently in three dimensions:

  Red   (3,     2,    -2)
  Blue  (0,     3,     4)
  Green (23,  -56,   128)
The goal is to minimize bias. The hypothesis says bias in a group will be minimized by giving each color group an equal share in the group. However, at a first glance, we can immediately see that in order to minimize bias, we must reduce the number of Green Octopodes in the group. The hypothesis is wrong, because it doesn't generalize.

Note, I'm not making an argument against diversity. The average Green Octopode may hold extremist views, but they shouldn't be excluded from a group merely to reduce bias. Just like humans, Green Octopodes should be treated as the individuals that they are, not as a weight in a multivariate optimization problem.

I've seen no calls to increase the numbers of conservatives/Republicans in STEM, despite the fact that political ideology and affiliation is actually testing the way people think. For example, though the percentage of scientists who lean Rep. is 12% to the general public's 35%, the percentages are 81% and 52% for lean Dem.[1] And the gap in other political values is high as well.

Demographics are only slightly correlated with how people think, so this form of argument falls flat unless you think encouraging conservatives to get into science is far more important.

[1] http://www.people-press.org/2009/07/09/section-4-scientists-...

Maybe no one wants to spend money on this, but I think a greater diversity of viewpoints would lead to more trust from the public. It is a hard sell for either party though.

Is reducing bias the most important goal?

(Definitely not for me. Life today is much better than it was 50 years ago in communist Yugoslavia, despite higher inequality and bias, due to progress in science and business.)

Imagine how much more progress we could have had in science and business if we didn't de facto force out so many possible candidates who were interested in the field after they had their first kid.

The answer is a quick Google search away, diversity increases innovation: https://www.google.com/search?q=diversity+increases+innovati...

If you don't agree with that, I'd love to hear why, and why the related studies are false. Can start with this one, which is the first result: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

There's quite the bibliography to pour through there, though, if you really want to shatter the science behind why diversity is a good thing. Good luck!

The study you linked has nothing to do with gender or diversity w.r.t. minorities. It's subject is economic geography.

We can be pretty confident that if 50% of the population are women then 50% of the best candidates for a given job, by natural aptitude, are women. The same logic applies to minorities as well, so we can be confident that any process calibrated to finding the best person for the job is going to turn up a diverse workforce.

However, once policies designed to enforce diversity come in to play, that correlation will be broken and you just have a sexist/racist/whatever hiring system.

> We can be pretty confident that if 50% of the population are women then 50% of the best candidates for a given job, by natural aptitude, are women

You shouldn't be as confident as you're probably wrong. Women have on average better verbal intelligence, and men have on average better spacial intelligence. So we can be confident there are jobs where either men or women are more likely to be best candidates.

No, I'm right. If you want to pick some super-specialist job that requires top 1% verbal skills then sure you want a woman doing it, but most jobs only require slightly above-average skills which will fall into a roughly 50-50 split.

And even then you can't reasonably claim that most jobs are better performed by spatial or verbal thinking. Both tend to have their moments.

No, we can't be 'pretty confident'. Sometimes the 'best' don't want to do the job. 90% of nurses are female (in Sweden where gender equality is a top priority).

What would be the motivation to induce or somehow encourage males to take up a career for which they clearly have no particular enthusiasm. I wonder how many males harbour a secret desire to be a nurse but are discouraged by societal norms? Need some amazing evidence for that one.

What motivate a person to work? There is plenty of study that has asked this question and tried to quantify how much it is for money, a feeling of being useful, the social environment, perks, having fun, social status gain, and so on.

Pretty sure more males harbour a secret desire to be a nurse than males that harbour a secret desire to be a garbage man, and yet we see nurses are 90% female and garbage men being 90% male. The question is why.

Because humans find reasons to look down on other 'groups' when they know that group is underrepresented, and therefore tergetable. Same as how people will talk shit about others and get reinforcement for it, until that person actually walks in. And because professional careers are a necessary path if we wish to have a 1st world where choice is possible. Without choice, others are deciding what you can do with your life. That's generally what patriarchy refers to, in that women are treated by, overwhelmingly men, who are in positions of power and use that power in a way to suppress that choice. It's not that they do this explicitly because they hate women, many do think that women are just inferior, but many are also making highly calculative reasons. It's a chicken and egg problem. But if we are to say we believe in morality, then it is many times necessary to overcome that problem by force of public acts.

Wether it's effective is highly circumstancial.

It’s important to minimize barriers to participation.

you definitely sound it... its not so much about having the same number as it is about providing the same opportunities. If new moms had the same support, be it from family members and their communities, they would be less likely to leave their positions.

Some things that would help in my opinion as a mother: affordable and accessible day care including back up care, at least 12 months maternity leave, flexible work arrangements (time and place), PTO (imagine both parents only have 2 weeks to spend with their kids outside of weekends), extended school and camp programs, affordability of all.

I went back to work when babe was 4 months. I have only 2 weeks PTO, there inst even a Christmas shut down, I have no family in the area, the daycare centers around me have 1 year waiting lists and are over $2500/month. I am underpaid. My work is flexible thankfully.

I don't blame women who quit.

Sweden made a government report on the teaching profession a few years ago and just like male dominated professions they found that the minority gender, men in this case, left the profession in a significant higher rate in ever stage from when they are a student to being a stable employee for decades. While the study did not look at newly parents, I would make the guess a similar effect but likely smaller since day care is paid by the state in Sweden.

I like common theories in order to explain similar data, so what theory can we make in order to explain why being a minority gender, for example women in science and men in the teaching profession, both tend to leave their positions in greater rate than the majority gender? A lack of support from family members and communities? I find that possible but a bit grim given how universal gender segregation is with about 90% of all employed here in Sweden.

Interesting, whatever it is society has changed and we need to re-evaluate our culture, community and policies to accommodate

I think it's more that it would be the natural state if not for the ingrained social factors that disadvantage, dissuade and outright remove women from those careers.

And that's important because it means a portion of the best brains are dropping out the mix, largely against their will.

as long as there isn’t then people will blindly look at the percentages and say it must be discrimination that causes the disparity

Because it's hard to tell who is going to make the next big leap. Losing 25% of the top brain power because we cannot be bothered to organise crèches seems shortsighted


Who is suggesting there needs to be as many women as men in STEM?

Let's say we live in a world (or small town) where there are only 16 software developers, 8 men, 8 women. 4 of the women are amazing top notch engineers, and so are 4 of the men.

The other 4 men and 4 women are pretty good, but not nearly as good as the top developers.

If a company needs to hire 10 people, and they hire men, they will not be able to fill their entire hiring need.

Obviously a silly policy, and it leaves a lot of good talent on the table.

So instead, the company hires the best it can.

4 amazing women

4 amazing men

1 average woman

1 average man

That is an optimal team given the local talent!

But now let's have the company put in some sexist work place policies. Half the woman leave. Now the company is down to

2 amazing women

4 amazing men

1 average woman

1 average man

to make up for lost numbers, the company is going to have to hire talent that is not as good as the talent that left!

The tl;dr is that discriminatory policies artificially limit the labor pool, reducing the overall efficiency of a company (and the economy of a nation as a whole if looked at broadly enough).

Given the assumptions the example is obviously correct. What if there are 8 amazing men and 2 amazing women but quotas dictate to hire 50/50?

The other thing is that the labor pool is already too large, lies from the industry notwithstanding.

> Given the assumptions the example is obviously correct. What if there are 8 amazing men and 2 amazing women but quotas dictate to hire 50/50?

Discussions about quotas are separate from discussions about how discriminatory practices limit hiring pools, and how discriminatory workplace environments decrease the overall level of talent at an organization.

(For what it is worth, the same reasoning being discussed here is why professional sports teams figured out long ago that racism was bad for business.)

Mathematically, if there is a labor shortage, then cutting out part of the hiring pool based on criteria that are not correlated with the qualifications of candidates, will always result in worse hiring decisions being made.

If there is a surplus of talented labor then whoever is doing the hiring can be pretty much as nasty as they want to be and still form a team of pretty good caliber.

From what I understand, if you mix women and men in the workplace then competition between employees goes up, for obvious reasons.

Start by not setting up strawman arguments for your conversation partners if you're interested in getting a real answer.

It's not, there's no reason to expect there to be as many women in the workforce as there are men in general. There's an obvious asymmetry which won't go away until men start giving birth.

The rational debate is generally surrounding equal opportunity and compensation.

Of course there are always going to be quacks pushing the debate in irrational directions however, and it's a trendy topic at the moment.

If you agree to the basic principle that scientific ability and thought is equally prevalent amongst men and women, having fewer women scientists means we are not getting and developing the best scientific minds. Having as many women as men also means a you girl doesnt think science is for boys only which again means we potentially miss out on good/great scientific minds purely because they self-select out.

So if you are in favor of STEM getting the best STEM minds, its important for STEM fields to reflect that STEM is for everyone. Having as many women as men is a step in that direction.

We are not getting and developing the best scientific minds anyway. Not by a long way.

IQ tests show there are a greater number of men with very high IQs than women, and scientific ability highly correlates with IQ, so your “basic principle” doesn't hold muster.

Do you have a source for this? How can we be reasonably certain IQ assessments aren't inherently gender-biased? Is IQ directly-correlated to scientific contribution?

Richard Feynman's IQ was famously average though his scientific contributions to society were most certainly not.

My wife's experience:

PI: "You put your kid in front of the TV for 2 hours a day to get stuff done? That's terrible parenting."

PI: "You will be late 1 day for a meaningless group presentation to your own lab, because your child is sick and can't go to daycare? Get your priorities straight."

Why was it your wife’s problem when the child was sick and not yours?

EDIT: Sorry, I just assumed that you didn’t equally stay at home when the kid was sick. How did your boss react when you didn’t show up?

Note that it wasn’t him criticizing her - it was her boss, at least assuming PI means principal investigator.

Raising children is a full time job. The broader problem is that the discipline is not at all treated as a profession. Instructors for those children are recognized professionals, but the guardians are not.

If you want to be good parents though, it is your imperative to put your kids above all else, which will naturally dissatisfy any members of the "all else" who don't have your well being and success as their priority.

This is what husbands are for.

While the title focuses on female scientists, males are also affected. From the article: "...23% of men and 43% of women who had become parents had left full-time STEM employment. ... This compared to 16% of child-free men and 24% of child-free women."

That’s even more stark when you put it that way. Men leave at a rate of 9% more than their background rate when they have children, women leave 19% more with kids, over a base rate that even without children exceeds the male rate by 8%.

Women left at a higher rate than men.

People who had children left at a higher rate than people who did not.

Women who had children left at a rate with a greater (additional or multiplier) increase over the rate of women without children than did men with children over men without children.

So basically, post-doctoral STEM employment punishes taking the hours to parent, like so many other professional positions these days.

I think that is not clear. Many people want to leave their jobs, men rarely have the option to do so because everyone (usually first and foremost their wives) frowns upon it.

Looks like offering childcare onsite could alleviate some of this at least in the early years —but may only postpone the inevitable departure.

As far as I understand it even at these high perk Santa Clara/Silicon Valley companies childcare isn’t a given. There are waiting lists and other limits. They want to attract women, but they fall short on this aspect.

Theres also plenty of evidence that children flourish way more under the guardianship of parents* rather than at least traditional day care. Having kids should push you out of full time work because raising kids is its own nigh-full time job.

The real problems are A. the number of people who can actually do that is way below replacement rates on the current population and B. women are still dropping their workforce participation much moreso than men are.

[*] I don't think it needs to be biological parents, more that many-to-one day care, especially with rotating or inconsistent caretakers and especially the younger you get, is harmful to development, Theres a lot of research on "models" of parenting and child rearing and how effective they are at producing the "best" children by varing definitions of best, but classical day care is usually considered by most metrics one of the worst.

I don’t doubt that, but at least marginally some parents will be swayed by convenient childcare, rather than going part time or abandoning the fields.

I wonder how much of this is people leaving science to pursue far more lucrative opportunities like running mathematically intricate financial scams for Wall Street banks in order to assure a good financial future for their children.

I know STEM PhDs who have left their field to get a bog standard devops job on account of it pays twice as well.

Yes, all of the women scientists are rushing to Wall Street where the old boys club is welcoming them with open arms.

In my time on Wall Street I've had many colleagues with STEM PhDs. I can't think of a single one who is female.

Parent was explicitly referring to how this also affects male participation rates and I was speaking to that. That said, you should be more inclusive of mothers with STEM degrees when running your financial scams.

You cut the part that explained that some of them merely cut back on their hours rather than "leaving STEM," a point that is repeated at least twice in the article:

They either went part time, switched to non-STEM careers or left the workforce altogether.

Indeed, if you stare at the bar chart for a moment, you'll realize that a sufficient explanation is that women more often have the option to reduce their hours or stop working entirely. In our culture, men generally don't have the privilege of doing so.

I've lived this myself and also watched many instances of it in friends and colleagues. Is anyone really shocked by the idea that new mothers might decide they'd like to stay home and raise their kids?

As a man, I'd almost have killed to stay home and have my wife keep working, but that's just not how it is.

Its kinda interesting to see the related articles on the same site: about how many of the smartest scientists are more successful doing other stuff (like finance). https://www.nature.com/news/life-outside-the-lab-the-ones-wh...

Perhaps there is a common theme that Full-Time science isn't necessarily the best life path for many people and the "US Female Scientists who leave" are actually happy with the outcome rather than symptom of a problem.

You can phrase it another way - "Many Male Scientists stuck in their job and unable to change their STEM careers".

It’s pretty universal it’s jusy like asking where are all the US soccer superstars when the answer is that they are they are playing in the NBA and the NFL. Elite athletes are going to be elite athletes the sport itself is secondary, smart people are going to be successful in any field and the field of choice is also nearly always secondary to their success.

It's disappointing to see just how much articles like these inspire some frequenters here to come out with their pet sexist theories on why this is expected and why such studies are not warranted.

To address one aspect of criticism, studies like these are not necessarily with an interest toward equal representation for its own sake, nor something that is best dealt with by resigning to the status quo that people are free to make choices and they deal with the consequences of it. There is talent lost in the field when stuff like this happens, and this is a first step to understanding if there are more efficient ways to address a need among families that is not currently being adequately addressed. If these can be addressed efficiently, then people will make different choices, and the consequences of those different decisions may be a net benefit to everyone.

Life is short, few things are more meaningful and rewarding than raising human beings.

It's also a net gain averaged out over time if the couple produces more than 2 children. It's a very rare person that can individually contribute more to their society than 3 or more well-raised new individuals.

Obviously this is a decision for couples to make for themselves, not for bureaucrats, economists, or activists to make for them.


Civilization built up a lot of things over 10,000 years that aren't very good.

Many modern anthropologists now believe that to be a myth attributable to, wait for it... implicit gender bias among male scientists in the early 1900's. You should check out the book "The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory" it's a very interesting read.

Then why don't men leave their fields in the same numbers as women after they have a kid?

One explanation would be, that men (on average) favor abstract subjects (STEM), and women (on average) favor social interaction (children).

(See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_psychology#... - Childhood play, Intelligence, Personality traits, Empathy)

Seems like those who already had full-time STEM jobs would favor them pretty hard, yet they still leave at nearly at twice the rate as their male counterparts.

One point to consider that relates to the first year at least is breastfeeding.

Science very heavily favors breastfeeding above the substitute. While pumping breast milk is a choice, it can be difficult in practice and some science points to it still being different for both the mother and the child in terms of hormonal differences and of course the physican touch/emotional wellbeing.

There could be many reasons: Perhaps because mothers are more nurturing and have a more intense desire to take care of their newborn children, after all they shared the same body for 9 months. Another could be the hormonal changes postpartum, which might trigger emotional and physical changes, etc. Childbearing is no small feat.

At least in Asia, there's pressure for men to be providers (and they get socially disrespected if they can't). Not sure about the U.S. though.

How do society treat men who leave?

How do society treat men who stay?

How do society treat women who leave?

How do society treat men who stay?

Society in this case mean social status, divorce rates, size of social networks, number of children, and other measurable factors. Answer all four and we likely have a clear answer why men don't leave at the same rate as women after they have a child.

Because there is no social expectation for men to do so.

I would bet this is a symptom of STEM PhD holders being educated and tending to have wealthier partners. It’s not that they must leave STEM, it’s that they can, and many many people would prefer to raise a family than work

yes. everyone assumes that disparity == discrimination and that women have no choice.

Completely anecdotal evidence, but every female coworker I've ever worked with has left work to raise their child after the first baby. Every single one of them said that they were definitely coming back before they went on maternity leave (and I believe that they believed it).

The main issue in every case was that as the new mothers got to the end of their maternity leave, they started to think about day care. In the end, they felt that they could not trust the day care centres with their child. Similarly the mothers did not trust their own husbands to look after the child because the husband had not spent much time with the child at that point. Because all of the families I knew were relatively well off with dual incomes, they eventually decided that the woman would quit work to look after the child.

In my anecdotal data, in no cases was there a salary gap between the man and the woman. Both were making roughly the same amount. Neither was it a case of not being able to afford child care -- although, once they crunched the numbers the cost of child care was a good percentage of one of the salaries, so it made it easier to take the financial hit to move to a single income. As far as I could tell, in all cases it just came down to trust.

For this reason, I think there should be some sort of encouraged paternal leave. For example, the government/company in partnership could pay for 80% of the salary for 6 months for the father to look after the child. This would occur immediately after the mother's maternity leave.

What this does is provide a financial incentive for the father to learn to look after the child. When the paternity leave is finished, then the choices look very different. I think it's still likely that one parent (in well to do dual family incomes) will choose to look after their child and quit their job (and I see nothing wrong with that). However, now the woman has spent the last 6 months working and it will be a harder decision to quit. The man now has had a chance to show that he can look after the child and the woman will be able to trust him with that responsibility.

I honestly believe without that kind of system, there will always be a disparity between men and women when it comes to one parent choosing to quit their job and raise children. I should point out that, personally, I think raising children is a wonderful job, even if it doesn't pay so well ;-) Sometimes I think modern society looks down on that role and I think it's rather unfair. However, I do understand that we aren't quite modern enough to make that job reasonably risk free (you're dependent upon your spouse which is not always going to work out). We've got a long way to go...

Iceland has a system similar to what you're describing. The mother gets three months, the father gets three months, and the couple gets another three months to share as they see fit. It's been a rousing success with 90% of fathers taking all three months.

Compare that to Denmark where every couple gets ten(ish) months of leave that can be used by the mother or father as they see fit. Danish women take an average of 9 months off while Danish men take an average of 1 month off.

Your point is actually very much backed up by science and Iris Bohnet devotes an entire chapter to it in her book "What Works." Arguably one of the easiest ways to reduce gender pay disparity is to give both women and men the _exact_ same amount of parental leave for the birth of a child. She actually argues we should go one step further and require new parents to take the leave because even men who are employed by companies with generous parental leave are under a tremendous amount of social pressure to return to work quickly and often do not use all of the time available to them even when they would have liked to stay home and spend more time with their family.

By the time you have two children the cost of child care is often similar to or greater than after tax income. It's just not really financially viable to work at that point.

People often make this argument, but it's an incautious one. It assumes the stay-at-home spouse's pay won't go up in the future, but this isn't the case. After four or five years, you won't need all-day childcare any more. However, the SAHP's earning potential will have gone down due to their time out of the workforce. This has compounding effects down the line. If you spreadsheet it out under reasonable assumptions, your after-tax income from the SAHP has to be substantially lower than the cost of childcare before it makes sense for them give up work over the long run. Obviously it depends on the family, but I think a lot of people take a fairly myopic view of this question and don't think about the long-term consequences.

In many parts of the world, daycare is heavily subsidized and it's a social norm to have children in daycare, it leads to high labor participation of women.

I keep thinking that's what should probably happen in Japan (where I live). The society already accepts the idea of teachers mostly raising the kids when they reach school age, so a social approach to raising children is probably palatable. The society needs more labour and most families are single income at the moment, so ready made labour force. But Japan is weird. Nothing happens incrementally. It goes from 0% to very nearly 100% literally overnight. One day I expect the government to make a pronouncement that "Women should work" and then everything will be put in place to make it happen. We'll see, I guess...

Is there a problem with part-time science? I am not reading the article and I imagine this is a tangent, but it would actually be interesting if work in true science was thought of as a part time pursuit, at least by practicing engineers and others in technical fields that had ideas they were interested in studying scientifically but their day jobs are far too lucrative to leave for the pursuit of knowledge. That, or the 20% time policy (again, no idea how this works in practice) being adopted at a more national level, somehow creating incentives for companies to allow their talent to pursue science that might be a bit more out there than would traditionally receive a formal grant.

If I'm understanding the timeline of the study properly, they're looking at parents of toddlers. IMO it would be more interesting to see how many parents were still working part-time or not at all once their kids are old enough to go to school

Most scientists leave after their PhD, if they know what's good for them. Postdocs suck, PIs suck, and big industry is slashing r+d budgets as fast as they can. Science as it's performed is only appropriate for the truly obsessive.

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that these findings could be repeated across all/most industries. I doubt that it is just female scientists that make this choice.

I wonder what % of these cases could be explained by understanding how much money each parent is making.

I'd wager that US Female Scientists probably make less than their partners. I'd wager that it's more likely for a US Female Scientist to stay in her position when she makes more money than her partner.

Do US Female Scientists have a preference for starting families with those who out-earn them?

I was accepted to a PhD in both economics and math, yet I had to turn them down due to being a parent of two small children. My wife stays at home with them, thus reducing my salary to a TA wasn't feasible for 4 - 6 years.

Is there a problem with the system when men have to give up opportunities due to having children?

Somebody is going to point out that you and your wife made the decision to have children as well as having your wife stay at home with them instead of working, so it might as well be me. You made conscious decisions that excluded you from opportunities, sorry.

Seems to be the same for women here. It was their choice to have children thus leaving their field.

Why do we care that not everyone is offered the same opportunities? Life isn't fair.

Until I see women fighting to take on all the roles men have taken in life, Alaskan commercial fishermen, roughneck oil rig workers, loggers etc... and just not 1 or 2, equal representation throughout I am not concerned with unequal representation in STEM, tech or any of the fashionable areas to be concerned with.

"Why do we care that not everyone is offered the same opportunities? Life isn't fair."

Does that mean we live with the status quo ? Whether it's institutional racism, sexism or plain fascism, do we not fight against inequalities in society to make it better ? You're lucky to have 24x7 electricity and internet connection, you wouldn't be so gung ho about "Life isn't fair" if you couldn't sustain yourself.

"Until I see women fighting to take on all the roles men have taken in life, Alaskan commercial fishermen, roughneck oil rig workers, loggers etc... and just not 1 or 2, equal representation throughout I am not concerned with unequal representation in STEM, tech or any of the fashionable areas to be concerned with."

Who are you to gatekeep what they can or can't go in ? I guarantee you most middle class males also won't go for these jobs, demand is often governed by economic opportunities and right now services and software is ruling the roost. Who are you to decide these arbitrary standards for being eligible for "fashionable" sectors.

Life will never be fair. That is the status quo of life since the beginning of time, it will never change. Regardless of what you try to do, it will never be fair.

I didn't see women fighting to get into those physically demanding jobs, or demand quotas or any of the other nonsense we see today. It's fashionable to be tech because it is easy work that provides a comfortable lifestyle. Thinking otherwise is foolish.

I can decide these arbitrary standards just as one else can decide their own arbitrary standard just because they don't conform to your standards doesn't mean they are wrong.

Any quota placed on the diversity of race, gender or another divide we can think of is asine, waste of time, and pointless. You can think otherwise, I don't really care, I don't need everyone to like or agree with me. I accept that as a part of life.

Original piece was about science, and it does not pay anywhere near as well as tech does. And plenty of jobs provide comfortable lifestyle, the IT is fashionable because it is all the hype now.

> I didn't see women fighting to get into those physically demanding jobs

I don't see hordes of men striving to be lumberjacks or miners either. For some reason most men want to sit in the comfortable office or a research lab too.

Although I agree with you about "life isn't fair and probably never will be" part, gatekeeping women from entering professions and not offering them equal opportunities (should be italicized) is not the unfairness we should keep. It is a degenerate mindset that must be eradicated.

But yeah, expecting equality of outcome is foolish and quotas are probably not a good idea.

Life was more fair to you clearly. Easy to sit on your high chair and sneer at the ones below. Luckily the entire world doesn't think like you.

Also things will always be bad doesn't mean we don't try to make it better.

This is why I think women would birth children first and then decide if they want to raise them or pay someone else to raise them. Pretty stupid to spend 4-8 years of your life and thousands of dollars on schooling only to abandon that investment.


what could be more fulfilling than [disruption|big data|reactive web|microservices|deep learning|tech evangelization|nosql]?

Verifiable delay functions!

I knew I was forgetting something!

Unstated assumption in this claim: this instinctual genetic imperative has a dimension that causes people to leave their jobs, and this dimension disproportionately affects women more than men.

That's very uneconomical and an inefficient allocation of limited resources. Is there a way to "force" them to come back, i.e. by offering 80% off on student loans while raising costs 5x in parallel that can't be repaid by their spouses? There should be some kind of responsibility incorporated to the system. One should not just cherry pick the good parts (status/prestige/free time).

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