Equality in thought and deed?

Last week I got to go to the Royal Society’s annual “Diversity” event.  I admit that I went into this meeting with a certain amount of cynicism (just for a change).  Visible differences are much easier to address than hidden ones.  Much of the focus was (predictably) on promoting ethnic and gender diversity.  I’m not usually classed as an ethnic minority (half Welsh and half Latina – see what I mean about visible differences?)

I am however a woman: an easily recognised minority in science, especially in the higher rungs.  But I’m not aware of having experienced any gender discrimination in my science career.  I’m lucky: I work in a research field that is largely dominated by female researchers; my research group is almost entirely female.  I’ve never felt that it’s an issue.

This is very different to my experiences in the NHS.  Again, I work in a field that has a slightly higher number of female trainees than others, but the expectations of me as a woman are completely different.

“When are you getting married?” might seem innocuous, but it reinforces the message that I’m expected to see this as a goal in my life.  It’s often followed by “when are you having a baby?”.  It’s not “if” but “when” – again, as though this is something that I should be doing.  

This is just social chat amongst peers.  Much more damaging are the statemetns by my seniors:

“you’ll never be any good as a paediatrician until you’re a mother” still haunts me.

Being told that “doing a PhD is not an acceptable reason to work part-time; you should be raising a family” was easier to shrug off – at least it was an open acknowledgement of something rarely acknowledged: regardless how many other aspects to your life, a woman is seen primarily as a potential mate and mother.  Not a Professor or a Clinical director or a Chief Exec.

Universities have put a huge amount of working into ensuring “family friendly” working environments; funding bodies emphasise their family leave allowances; institutions have diversity officers… What about the NHS?

If we’re going to recruit the best people to research, then we need to make sure that these kind of attitudes aren’t allowed to stifle ambition.  We need to stop defining women as proto-mothers above all else. And we need to focus our attention away from the universitites to the wider environment, including the NHS.

I am not a mother in waiting; I am not an incomplete wife.

I am a PhD candidate and paediatric trainee. I am a baker of breads and cakes.  I am a cat owner (or owned).  I am a pole dancer and occasional aerial hooper. 

Define me by the thoughts in my mind and the works of my hands and my body; not by what my colleagues think I should be doing with my womb.

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