DoctorYou S02E02: The Leaky Pipeline with Elisa

26.02.2019 Elisa Araldi, PostDoc at the Department of Biology, guests on the second episode of DoctorYou. The phenomenon we consider is the leaky pipeline in STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics): in some fields of STEM the percentage of women decreases in the higher steps of the academic hierarchy.

Note that, as written in ETH’s Gender Monitoring 2017/2018 „The analysis of the leaky pipeline is based on a series of annual observations used to chart the ratio of women to men at successive levels of academic achievement and rungs in the career ladder. However, the data presented in this way does not reflect the full impact of changes. […] Therefore, the current charts may indicate a more extreme view of the leaky pipeline than might actually be the case. „

We talk about role models, in particular female role models in fields traditionally dominated by men.

Elisa and Francesco in the studio

Why do we observe the leaky pipeline? What are its causes? It is of course not an easy answer and is very complex. Elisa makes the example of a study where the same academic curriculum was rated by a panel. Once on the curriculum stood a male name and once a female name, say John and Jennifer. It turned out that overall John’s dossier was rated as belonging to a more competent person than Jennifer’s. See here.

Moreover Elisa explains also the amplification technique, which can be used to make a workplace more inclusive. Amplifying means taking up and confirming good ideas of colleagues. For instance, let’s say that a colleague had a good idea and spoke out to tell it to the others but was not noticed. If this good idea is not amplified, there is the risk that somebody else will catch it up at some later point and sell it as one’s own. But there is also the risk that the person who initially had the idea will not contribute any longer to the discussion.

Sternbild Wassermann from the e-archive of ETH Library

Let’s say that J. had a good idea and brought it up in a group discussion. Then amplifying J.’s idea means to say in front of all the group „What a good idea! Thank you J!“ for instance.

What can be done to try to fix the leaky pipeline? Elisa takes part in two mentoring programs, which are part of the initiative „Fix The Leaky Pipeline“. These two mentoring programs are a one-to-one mentoring program and a peer mentoring program respectively.

The topic is very broad and in our very short time we were able to touch only few aspects. Moreover we simplified the discussion to a binary gender conception but of course there are also other (gender) identities and some of the considerations done could apply there as well or for shy people regardless of the gender identity.

The interview with Elisa will soon be available on  Mixcloud but in the meantime you can have a look at our short video.

If you are interested in the topic, here you find Fix the Leaky Pipeline and the Gender Monitoring 2017/2018 at ETH.

Next week a supervisor and a recently graduated PhD student will guest on the program to discuss about what makes a good supervisor resp. what makes a good student.

Stay tuned!


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