Everybody has heard of the leaky pipeline in STEM. This is the idea that at undergraduate level you start out with roughly even numbers of women and men scientists. But as you look closely at academic careers, the more senior you get, the more women ‘leak’ out of the pipeline. What is wrong with the pipeline – or should we see it more as an obstacle course than a pipeline – and can we do anything to remove obstacles that prevent women progressing their careers in STEM?

Leda Blackwood has been investigating the factors that cause STEM early career researchers to leave academia. Her research suggests women aren’t ‘leaking’, they are being pushed. One of the biggest factors influencing early career researchers to leave academia is witnessing or experiencing first hand bullying and harassment. This undermines the positive factors needed for people to stay in academia including a sense of belonging, recognition of their value and their achievements and academic identity.

Leda’s research highlights that we need to do more to support a positive research culture. For example, ensuring that people are recruited into research groups so individuals are not isolated. This research is also informing policy and supports the importance of the ‘Be The Change’ programme.

Watch the 3 minute video below to learn more.

For a deeper dive into this research project, listen to our podcast here.

Find out more about the project team here.

Read the full research paper here.

Litzellachner, L. F., & Blackwood, L. (2024). How harassment is depriving universities of talent: a national survey of STEM academics in the UK. Frontiers in Psychology, 14, 1212545.