When a recent Canadian "science-star search" recruited 19 men and 0 women for grants, it raised an unexpected question: is relocating harder for women than for men?

According to Elizabeth Church of the Globe and Mail, the Canadian government, to its credit, is disturbed by the failure of its Canada Excellence Research Chairs program to find even one female scientist worth of a prestigious grant. Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement says, "It was a combination of factors. We didn't know we had a problem. It just never occurred to us that it would be 19 men and zero women." Now that it has, um, occurred to them, they've taken steps to figure out what that "combination of factors" includes. An investigation into the disparity turned up a few the usual suspects — like and "old boys network" in science — but also one that's discussed less often: relocation.


Church writes that "senior women [...] may be more reluctant than their male colleagues to move for personal reasons," and adds that "at the University of Manitoba, vice-president of research Digvir Jayas says that's exactly what they experienced. They did approach a highly qualified female candidate for their chair, but she withdrew her name for personal reasons." At least anecdotally, it makes depressing sense — while it's still often expected that a woman will follow her partner if he need to relocate for work, the same isn't necessarily true of men. For many women, a big move often means saying goodbye to a relationship, or at least going long-distance, a choice men don't always have to make. Partly this disparity may have to do with the wage gap — especially if there are kids involved, it may make less sense to relocate an entire family for the benefit of the lesser-earning partner. But part of it has to do with continued perceptions that men's careers are more important than women's, that women should sacrifice career goals for the health of their relationships, and that "following" someone is feminine behavior.

There are certainly plenty of men who do relocate for their partners' careers — we need more data to determine how common this act is for either gender. But the Canadian science search certainly suggests that relocation is a factor institutions should take into account when considering gender balance. Unfortunately, it's hard to see how they could make relocation eager for women in the short-term — perhaps by offering more job search services to partners? In the long term, what needs to change in perception that women have to be the primary custodians of relationships and family, with their careers taking a back seat. Moving is always a difficult choice, but the difficulties of the choice should be shared equally in relationships, and right now they seem to fall disproportionately on women.

Image via Tanya Ien/Shutterstock.com.

Why Women Were Shut Out Of Canada's Science-Star Search [Globe and Mail]