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Insider Advice

Zoological Society of London's Seirian Sumner and Nathalie Pettorelli have had "enough of costly advisory committees," they say. And so, synthesizing advice from 16 female scientists in the UK and that gleaned from their own experiences, Sumner and Pettorelli share ideas for retaining women in science at Nature's Soapbox Science guest blog this week.

Their first recommendation? Dedicated mentorships. "Provide all women in science with a committed mentor or 'career champion,'" Sumner and Pettorelli say. University College London's Judith Mank adds: "We need to stop telling young women how hard it is to be a woman scientist and start telling them about how amazing the job is."

Sumner and Pettorelli also suggest that funding agencies include what they call a "family support financial supplement" in their grant application materials, and that research institutions provide internal support for women in the critical years — those in which many female scientists leave their posts for personal reasons. "Data collection is rarely compatible with family commitments — be they caring for an elderly relative or a young family, or juggling a long distance relationship," Sumner and Pettorelli say. "Yet, there is no compensation available to pay for the extra childcare a woman might need to finish her lab experiments that run on late into the night, or for a woman who wants to bring her family with her on those many months of fieldwork abroad."

Finally, the authors also suggest that research institutions provide funding to help solve the two-body problem, empower male scientists to take equal responsibility in family life, and extend additional support for scientists who wish to work part time.

"If implemented, these recommendations could ensure that the next generations of female scientists do not repeat history and bear the same, yet avoidable, costs," Sumner and Pettorelli say.

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