Gender balance, one woman at a time

An interesting discussion of gender balance in Physics..

Debbie Hayton

What can be done to increase the number of women in physics? This question keeps committees busy and researchers funded, but the solution seems as elusive as squaring the circle. Four years ago, however, I did my bit: I transitioned from male to female. As this also meant that the number of men in physics was simultaneously reduced by one, it was, as they say in football, a “six-pointer”.

I hasten to add that I didn’t transition in order to improve the male-female ratio among physicists; that really would have been a remarkable thing to do. However, it did mean that when my wave function collapsed into the F state, I was able to conduct some controlled social observations in my work as a teacher. I’m the same person and I’m doing the same job, but in a different gender role.

After a degree, PhD and postdoctoral research I trained…

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2 Responses to “Gender balance, one woman at a time”

  1. At university level, the gender balance could be addressed by REF insisting that only as many men as women from each institution would count towards an institution’s REF “score”. (e.g. if Uni A has 5 female physics staff and 15 male, they can only include 5 female and 5 male staff on their REF submission). Given the REF hiring frenzy that happened previously, I think a lot of positions would open up.

    However, I don’t have a good idea of how to fairly include staff undergoing a transition.

  2. As always, one first has to ask the question if lack of balance is a problem. Is every group represented in every field in the same proportion as in the general population? Every group in any field? Any group in every field?

    Second, one has to ask the question whether there is some problem in physics or is it part of a larger problem.

    Third, one has to campaign equally strongly where men are underrepresented.

    Fourth, one has to strive for equal opportunity in general, not just gender balance in one field.

    It’s complicated. The easiest solution is to make sure that equal opportunity exists in one’s own field, and point out where this is not the case elsewhere. Equal opportunity should be the goal. If this results in gender (and other) balance, fine. If not, then balance would mean forcing some people to do something they rather wouldn’t.

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