Where do all the women go?

By Siouxsie Wiles 06/03/2014

This weekend is International Women’s Day and the theme this year is Inspiring Change.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just 30% of science researchers are women. They have produced a nifty tool to see where those women work and in what fields.

UNESCO - Women In Science Interactive

For NZ, the tool says that 59% of Bachelors students are female, 51% of Doctoral students and 52% of researchers. Interestingly, when the researchers are broken down by sector, a whopping 67% of academic researchers are female, while only 25% of those in the public sector and 16% in the private sector are female. As I’m in academia, I’d really like to see the breakdown for faculty positions, as its my impression that there are much fewer women the higher up the academic food chain you go.

One of the many reasons put forward for this is that more men than women are invited to speak at academic meetings and that invitations like these are of great importance for academic advancement. So its interesting to see some data on this from Arturo Casadevall & Jo Handelsman. They have just published a paper in the open access journal mBio looking at the numbers of male and females speakers at American Society for Microbiology meetings.

Here are some of their findings from analysis of 216 sessions from 3 general meetings held in 2011, 2012, and 2013:
1. 104 sessions were convened by male-only convener teams
2. 112 sessions had at least one female in the convener team.
3. In sessions convened by all men, invited female speakers averaged 25%.
4. In sessions in which the convener team included at least one woman, woman speakers averaged 43%.

Inclusion of at least one woman among the conveners increased the proportion of female speakers by 72% compared with those convened by men alone.

Something to think about the next time you organise a seminar series or meeting.

Casadevall A, Handelsman J. 2014. The presence of female conveners correlates with a higher proportion of female speakers at scientific symposia. mBio 5(1):e00846-13. doi:10.1128/mBio.00846-13

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