Gender equity in academia is a long-standing struggle. Although common to all disciplines, the impacts of bias and stereotypes are particularly pronounced in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This paper explores what barriers exist for the career progression of women in academia in STEM disciplines in order to identify key issues and potential solutions. In particular, we were interested in how women perceive the barriers affecting their careers in comparison to their male colleagues. Fourteen focus groups with female-identifying academics showed that there were core barriers to career progression, which spanned countries, disciplines and career stages. Entrenched biases, stereotypes, double standards, bullying and harassment all negatively impact women’s confidence and sense of belonging. Women also face an additional biological burden, often being pushed to choose between having children or a career. Participants felt that their experiences as STEM academics were noticeably different to those of their male colleagues, where many of the commonly occurring barriers for women were simply non-issues for men. The results of this study indicate that some of these barriers can be overcome through networks, mentoring and allies. Addressing these barriers requires a reshaping of the gendered norms that currently limit progress to equity and inclusion.
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