Perspectives – Academic career in ecology: Effect of gender, caregiving labor, and the working environment

Related GLP Member: María Piquer-Rodríguez, Veronica Chillo, Lucia Zarba

Highlights

  • Unpaid caregiving work disrupts careers; women’s greater load impacts scientific work.
  • Women juggle caregiving and home-office stressing the need for friendly workplaces.
  • Women judge themselves harshly; both genders value male researchers' work higher.
  • Policies needed for fair and inclusive work environments, mainly supporting women.

 

Abstract

True meritocracy is only fair when a leveled playing field is guaranteed. Scientists with caregiving responsibilities, often women, carry a heavy burden of unpaid labour, and therefore suffer downfalls in performance. Centered on an online survey that circulated among Argentinean ecologists between March and June 2020, we explored some of the mechanisms that may be behind differential performance and perception of performance in scientific tasks between genders. Based on 437 responses, we found that caregiving relays more on women than men, and that women dedicate less uninterrupted time to paid work, and more to unpaid domestic labour, especially when working from home. Women seem to start their careers younger than, but promote to higher categories older than men. Women value their own work more poorly than men. Both female and male researchers seem to choose more male referents and advisers, especially among older generations. The interaction between family and work is perceived negatively by women in early career stages, yet women and men felt supported by their advisers with respect to family-related issues. After the COVID pandemic, home-office has become an acceptable work practice adopted in different work places. However, our results show that at least in some fields of science, this may be inequitably productive for men and women. Public policies must help relieve all scientists, but especially women, from heavy unpaid caregiving labour and facilitate leaving their home space to detach from tasks related to domestic issues during work hours. Greater peer recognition of women’s research should increase their participation as advisers and referents, and improve perception of their own work and those of other women. Public policies should aim at a fairer and more equitable working environment for women.