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Lechin Lu


When it comes to addressing gender inequality in STEM fields, the leaky pipeline problem starts with the metaphor

May 5, 2022

By many accounts, women self-select out of STEM programs at various points across the career trajectory because they feel they do not belong, or because they feel less confident in their ability to thrive in a STEM career. When speaking of issues related to gender inequality in STEM, the predominant metaphor used is that of a “leaky pipeline.”

Last year, we completed a report for a scientific governing body on ways they can make their funding services to university faculty more equitable. We interviewed women who opted out of academic careers because the culture in their labs was inhospitable. And we documented stories of interviewees’ colleagues who experienced harassment and likewise opted out of academia.

Taken together, we were provided evidence of a leaky pipeline, and we had conversations with interview participants about what might ultimately be its cause. These conversations were unsettling and unsatisfactory because we kept butting against the issue of recruitment, hiring, and retention. But the real problem with the leaky pipeline explanation of gender inequality is the metaphor itself.

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