We support efforts toward "levelling the playing field" in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines through organisations such as the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM). Targeting interventions at early career researchers is vital.
The Wellcome Trust's Basic Science Career Tracker2 demonstrates the disproportionate number of women exiting academia early in their careers. Although an academic research career brings rewards, it remains a risky long-term career choice3, and as McNutt describes, childbearing years typically coincide with the time when a faculty member needs to build a strong portfolio and gain tenure, thereby securing a less risky future.
Academia needs to attract and retain high-quality, highly trained researchers; research funders such as the Wellcome Trust can play an important role by following these steps: (i) Funders need to ensure that career awareness and mentorship are integral components of their training provision. (ii) Funders must ensure that their eligibility and/or funding guidelines do not discriminate against certain researchers (for example, a bias in funding decisions toward grant applications that include a move between institutions may inadvertently discriminate against those with established local ties). (iii) Funders need to promote and develop opportunities for researchers to use their funding flexibly, including options for career breaks, re-entry fellowships, opportunities to work in posts other than as a principal investigator, and part-time schedules. (iv) We need to expand the opportunities for female role models working across academia to tell their story; this should be a core component of training programmes.
Elizabeth Allen, Halina Suwalowska and David Lynn
Strategic Planning and Policy Unit, Wellcome Trust