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Challenging Explanations for the lack of Senior Women in Science? Reflections from Successful Women Scientists at an elite British University

Alison Chapple, Sue Ziebland


Despite many initiatives to improve diversity, women working in science in the UK are still under-represented at senior levels. There are few studies drawing on the accounts of successful women scientists about gender discrimination and workplace stereotyping. We interviewed 39 women scientists working at an elite British university. A qualitative thematic analysis drew on three controversial ‘explanations’ for gender inequality in science, which are variously challenged by our data. The women we talked to were all ambitious and successful and (unsurprisingly, given this success) did not suggest that they have personally experienced serious discrimination in their careers. Some conceded that perhaps other women may not reach senior positions in science because of social expectations, low confidence or a lack of support. A few had experienced, or heard of, negative consequences of stereotyping, implicit bias or a ‘boys’ network’, whereby men met outside work for activities such as pub visits or football, which were the main reasons given to explain why some women do not progress to senior positions. Encouragingly some described how gender stereotypes are being resisted; these women scientists are themselves role models for junior colleagues.


women in science; stereotyping; discrimination; narrative interviews; implicit bias; unconscious bias

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