Women in Science

Why are there fewer women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM)?

When they do have careers in these areas, why do fewer women reach the top?

The debate about this, and more importantly what to do about it, has been ongoing for a number of years. There is now a considerable body of research exploring what contributes to the gender disparities in STEM subjects.

A great summary and introduction can be found in this article by Athene Donald (also listed below). A critical issue is the 'leaky pipe'. That is, the number of women that are lost as you move up the career ladder. My own discipline is a fine example of this. At undergraduate level, the student body is overwhelmingly female (above 75% usually). However, the number of women in senior academic positions is typically far short of that (e.g. in my Department there are three male professors and one female professor).

Athena SWAN

In the UK, the Athena SWAN charter was established to encourage Universities to make real efforts to address gender disparities in STEM subjects. Athen SWAN is organised and run by the Equality Change Unit, which works to promote and produce greater equality in higher education. My School achieved a Bronze Athena SWAN award last year.

I sit on a two different committees at the University of Reading that work on Athena SWAN goals and issues (one for my School, one for the University). This page of my website is a place where I can collect relevant research, articles and resources of interest.

Any suggestions for things to include are very welcome!

Resources


Books

  • Why So Slow? Virginia Valian. Evidence based book which builds the argument that small, often unconscious, biases build up into large disparities. Great piece of scholarship.


Research articles

  • Damaske, S., Howard Ecklund, E., Lincoln, A. & White, V. (2014) Male Scientists: Competing Devotions to Work and Family: Changing Norms in a Male-Dominated Profession. Work and Occupations, 41(4), 477-507. "Findings suggest male scientists hold strong work devotions, but a growing number seek egalitarian relationships, which they frame as reducing their devotion to work. The majority of men find the all-consuming nature of academic science conflicts with changing fatherhood norms".
  • Ceci, S.J. et al (2014) Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 15(3), 75-141. Differences in preferences for maths subjects prior to University explain gender disparities in science, not bias or discrimination. "We conclude by suggesting that although in the past, gender discrimination was an important cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific academic careers, this claim has continued to be invoked after it has ceased being a valid cause of women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields... current barriers... are rooted in pre-college factors"
  • Conley, D. & Stadmark, J. (2012) Gender matters: A call to commission more women writes. Nature correspondance, 488. Women are under-represented as authors of news and views / perspectives articles in the journal Nature.
  • Moss-Racusin et al (2012) Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students. PNAS. Men and women rate male applicants as more competent and hireable, and offer higher starting salaries.
  • Lariviere, V., Ni, C., Yves, G., Cronin, B. & Sugimoto, C.R. (2013) Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science. Nature comment. Interesting bibliographic analysis of authorship by gender. Finds that papers authored by women in key positions are cited less, with women accounting for fewer authorships across disciplines.
  • Benenson, J.F., Markovits, H. & Wrangham, R. (2014) Rank influences human sex differences in dyadic cooperation. Current Biology, 25 (5). Women collaborate less frequently with other females of a lower rank (in this case, full Professors publishing papers with Assistant Professors). There is no difference in how often fuller Professors of both sexes publish with other full Professors. Therefore, do women collaborate less with 'lower ranking' females?
  • Ah-King, M., Barron, A.B. & Herberstein, M.E. (2014) Genital Evolution: Why Are Females Still Understudied? PLOS Biology. An interesting example of the consequences of having male dominance in research - it turns out that this means male genitals get studied more in evolutionary biology!
  • Reuben, Sapienza & Zingales (2014) How stereotypes impair women's careers in science. PNAS. Study finding that both men and women are more likely to hire male candidates, attributed to implicit biases / gender stereotypes.
  • Sheltzer, J. M., & Smith, J. C. (2014). Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women. PNAS. "...high-achieving faculty members who are male train 10–40% fewer women in their laboratories relative to the number of women trained by other investigators. These skewed employment patterns may result from self-selection among female scientists or they may result from conscious or unconscious bias on the part of some faculty members. The dearth of women who are trained in these laboratories likely limits the number of female candidates who are most competitive for faculty job searches."
  • An interesting review of methods used to evaluate bias in employment procedures (e.g. for gender or race) is provided by Riach, P. A., & Rich, J. (2002). Field experiments of discrimination in the market place. The economic journal, 112(483).


Reports

  • Science and Gender in Academia - Obstacles and Interventions. Athene Donald. 2010. Great starter article, summarising the situation in the UK. Written by a leading female scientist engaged with these issues nationally. Contributing factors are listed, and actions that can be taken.
  • Gender, Stereotypes and Expertise in the Press: How Newspapers Represent Female and Male Scientists. Jenny Kitzinger, Mwenya Chimba, Andrew Williams, Joan Haran & Tammy Boyce. 2008. Report from UK resource centre for women in science, engineering & technology. Interesting findings include journalists mentioning appearance more often when writing about women, and that men are more often cited as expert scientific sources (5 men quoted for every 1 woman).
  • Women Count: Leaders in Higher Education. Norma Jarbae. 2013. Report Indexing the representation of women in leadership roles in the HE sector, providing data and points for discussion.
  • Science and Technology Committee - Women in scientific careers report. 2014. Report on an inquiry into Women in STEM careers, addressing issues on the retention of women in academia (e.g. Why are there fewer women in more senior posts? Why do women leave academia? What should Universities and the Government do?).
  • Great expectations: Exploring the promises of gender equality. 2013. Tess Lanning, with Richard Darlington, Glenn Gottfried, Laura Bradley. Report from the Institute for Public Policy Research, concluding that concrete changes in daily life are needed to create meaningful change (e.g. high quality part-time work, balancing caring responsibilities in the home, and representation of women in positions across society).


Blogs, newspaper articles, web pages and other stuff

  • Guardian article detailing research from Columbia Business School showing that 'Queen Bee' syndrome is a myth. Finding that senior women do not promote other women is refuted, with data showing that businesses tend to promote one or two women to very senior roles, and then stop. When more women are promoted to senior positions, they then do promote more women underneath them.
  • 'Lean Out: The Dangers for Women who Negotiate', article by Maria Konnikova, New York Times. Interesting review of research and anecdotal evidence on what happens to women who take an assertive position during job negotiations. Findings that this is viewed negatively for women, where it would be considered a positive approach for men.
  • 'Philosophy is for posh, white boys with trust funds' - why are there so few women?, article by Rebecca Ratcliffe and Claire shaw on the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in Philosophy.
  • Paradigms and prejudice, article by Beryl Lieff Benderly in Science / Science Careers. Interesting comparison of recent data showing that STEM subjects are not sexist (e.g. the Ceci et al article cited above) and data that male scientists who want to balance work and family commitments find it difficult (Damaske et al, cited above). In other words, science probably isn't sexist, but it is difficult for anyone who isn't able (or doesn't want) to dedicate themselves to work at the expense of all else.
  • Critique of Ceci et al (2014) article (see above), by Rebecca Schuman at Slade magazine, with links to other critiques. In particular, discusses how the Ceci paper appears to ignore much of the literature on implicit and institutional bias, trends in their own data and the acknowledged pressures of a scientific career. Article detailing the different language used to describe men and women in job appraisals: 'The abrasiveness trap'. Highlighting differences such as the term 'abrasive' which is only used to describe women.
  • Article about When Scientists Choose Motherhood. Wendy Williams & Stephen Ceci, in American Scientist. Fascinating exploration of the impact of motherhood on STEM careers, also covers other contributing factors and their comparative impact.
  • Neat exploration of gender ratios across different subjects, showing preference for males in quantitative subjects, by Randal S Olson. Link here.
  • Guardian article about Soapbox Science (see below). Also links to other relevant articles and organisations.
  • Academics Anonymous posts in The Guardian (UK newspaper), one focusing on a personal story of how motherhood might impact a science career, and the other on gender bias in peer review that negatively affects women's promotion opportunities.
  • Blog post by Dorothy Bishop, Developmental Neuropsychologist at the University of Oxford. Written in response to a House of Commons report and signed letter from academics requesting a change to criteria for promotion. The rest of her blog is excellent too.
  • Newspaper articles in the Guardian written by Athene Donald (see above).
  • Web page of reading material and links from Jessica Grahn's website. She is a Neuroscientist working at Western University, Ontario. This page was inspired by hers!
  • Interview with the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes, Janet Beer. Includes some interesting first person experiences of sexism in academia.
  • Brief article in Nature by Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib on the gender gap in science.


Organisations

  • WISE Working to improve the gender balance in the UK's STEM workforce. Provides a variety of events and support.
  • Athena SWAN Charter for women in science. Awards Bronze, Silver or Gold to Universities and Departments which demonstrate concrete initiatives for tackling gender disparities in their staff and student bodies.
  • Equality Change Unit (ECU) "Working to further and support equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education" in the UK.
  • Soapbox Science. Organisation promoting women scientists by supporting them in public engagement (i.e. putting them on soap boxes!). Recent article in the guardian here.
  • The Women's Room. Organisation that provides a searchable database of female experts, and discussion around representation of female experts in the media. Aims to increase the number of female academics, commentators and experts represented in the media.
  • Her Say. "The UK's leading media resource centre for female experts"