Women's scientific achievements often overlooked and undervalued

May 08, 2012

Los Angeles, CA (May 8, 2012) A new study from Social Studies of Science (published by SAGE) reveals that when men chair committees that select scientific awards recipients, males win the awards more than 95% of the time. This new study also reports that while in the past two decades women have begun to win more awards for their scientific achievements, compared to men, they win more service and teaching awards and fewer prestigious scholarly awards than would be expected based on their representation in the nomination pool.

The authors wrote, "On the face of them, awards for may not raise concerns … yet women-only awards can camouflage women's underrepresentation by inflating the number of female award recipients, leading to the impression that no disparities exist."

The researchers analyzed the composition of award committees in order to explain why there is such a large disparity between male and female scientific award recipients. They found that committees that were chaired by men awarded 95.1% of their prizes to men despite the fact that women made up 21% of the pools. While having women on a committee did increase the chances that women were awarded prizes, women made up only 19.5% of the average award committee and male chairs trumped any effect of having women on the committee.

Researchers Anne E. Lincoln, Stephanie Pincus, Janet Bandows Koster, and Phoebe S. Leboy studied the dissemination of awards given by 13 societies from the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) between 1991 and 2010. They found that while awards to women increased by 78.5 % during these two decades, between the years of 2000 and 2010, men were more than eight times more likely than women to win a scholarly award and almost three times more likely to win a young investigator award. Interestingly, this disparity grew instead of diminishing between the years of 2001 and 2010 – women won 10% of research-based awards while winning 32.2 % of service awards and 37.1 % of teaching awards.

The researchers suggested some possible solutions to this problem such as increasing the proportion of female nominees for all types of scientific prizes, ensuring that women are well represented on prize committees, constantly reviewing award criteria to check for implicit bias, and establishing an oversight committee to maintain standards of equality.

"The fact that women are honored twice as often for service as for scholarship may arise from … the tacit assumption that scientists and rigorous scholars are men, and that women are incongruent with the scientist role," wrote the authors. "Professional societies must inform leadership and committees about such bias."

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More information: The article "The Matilda Effect in science: Awards and prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s" published in Social Studies of Science, Volume 42, Issue 2 (April 2012), and is available free for a limited time at sss.sagepub.com/content/42/2/307.full.pdf+html

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