Female staff and students speak out on how STEM subjects are an 'old boy's club'

A student says she had an abortion because she thought having a baby would “ruin my PhD,” a report into everyday sexism has found.

The report by Bristol Students’ Union (BSU) sets out how everyday sexist comments towards females are becoming ‘highly normalised’ in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at the university.

80 per cent of staff say they, at some point, felt uncomfortable in their place of work because of their gender while 64 per cent say they had experienced sexist comments.

With regards to the students, 51 per cent of females say they had, at some stage, been made to feel uncomfortable while studying with 46% per cent adding they, too, had experienced sexist comments.

The report found common themes and concerns consistently crop-up during research including; the lack of female role models, daily sexism, worries about starting a family and lack of support.

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Female students made to feel 'incapable of many of the roles' by male counterparts

One staff member speaks of her return to work after having a baby: “When I returned to work after having a baby, I needed to express breast milk during my working day.

“The space I was provided with to do this was not suitable but I was too embarrassed to ask for somewhere else.”

A senior lecturer describes how, through lack of support, the effects the sexism is having on her female colleagues: “I have watched my female colleagues around me

Disappear as they encounter hurdles that men wouldn’t have encountered and there is little support for them.”

The term “old boy's club/network” appears frequently in the findings and students go on to describe how male tutors have said things like: ‘I’ve got all the blonde ladies to myself this morning’ while another male lecturer is said to have ‘made jokes about Rolf Harris and talked about the male students getting their female dates drunk’.

In the lab, female students have been told: ‘Go and fix your make-up, we’re working’ while another was told that her good marks were ‘due to ‘having boobs/flirting’ with demonstrators’.

Another remembers how she experienced suggestions that her grades were down to her offering ‘sexual favours’ lecturers.

The report comes only a week after Nobel Prize winner, Tim Hunt, caused an uproar and was severely criticised when he made sexist comments at a conference, saying: “Three things happen when they [women] are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and – when you criticise them – they cry.”

BSU’s equality, liberation and access officer, Alice Phillips, described the report's findings as “extremely concerning” and added: “These findings illustrate that there is a real culture of sexism in STEM subjects that needs to be tackled.

“I urge the university to follow the 2014 House of Commons recommendation to provide compulsory equality and diversity training.

“If universities value equality as much as they say they do, they need to start taking seriously the experiences of women in academia.”

Addressing the findings of the report – in a statement – the university said it is eager to work with the students’ union and hopes to “look at ways in which we can build on our existing initiatives aimed at improving gender equality for staff and students”.

The statement also added that the university is committed to creating and sustaining a “fair and positive working environment” for staff and students and said: “We will not tolerate discrimination, sexism, harassment or victimisation of any individual and any allegations are investigated and dealt with appropriately.”

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