Recently, START, in partnership with GenderInSITE, held two virtual reflection dialogues focused on supporting African women and their pathways to success in science leadership. The purpose of dialogue one was to convene diverse perspectives and voices of scientific leaders from across Africa to learn more from one another about what scientific leadership looks like for women working in African contexts, discuss what unique challenges and opportunities are found along the pathways to scientific success, explore ideas on how, and what kind of strategic capacity development could help further gender equality and equity in scientific institutions and policy in African countries, and to critically examine challenges that could plausibly arise for these strategic capacity development efforts and what could be done to mitigate those. During this dialogue, a number of key barriers and enablers to success for African women scientists were identified. Highlighted enablers included:
- Broad and comprehensive mentorship programs
- Widespread and comprehensive opportunities for science education from the earliest levels
- Champions of change in high profile positions in governments and institutions who can advocate for change
- Meaningful engagement of men as allies for gender equity and sensitization
- Designated funding opportunities for African women scientists.
Dialogue two built upon the findings of the first and centered on looking more deeply at the theme of mentorship for African women scientists and what features make mentorship programs more valuable and sustainable and the most effective ways of engaging men as allies for gender equity. During this dialogue we learned that cultivating safe, open spaces where mentors and mentees can participate in free conversations about challenges, skills and opportunities is crucial, and that mentorship is largely about finding the right people and personalities that are committed to gender equity and to supporting women scientists and their pathways to success. It was also recognized that many science-focused spaces continue to be owned and controlled by men, potentially leading to dangerous power imbalances for women. Further, this dialogue also highlighted that women in senior scientific positions still face real challenges and seemingly need to continuously prove that they belong where they are, and with fewer women at senior levels, the burden to improve things for all women is great.
START and GenderInSITE greatly appreciate all of the insights and experiences shared by the participants at these two dialogues and we look forward to continuing our collaborative work on programming that supports African women scientists. If you are interested in keeping up with our progress and being notified of new opportunities, please sign up for START’s mailing list or email firstname.lastname@example.org.