Your grandchildren may retire before we achieve gender equality in STEMM

The gender gap in science: When will women be equally represented?
The gender gap is very striking in the STEMM workforce. Credit: Jarmoluk on Pixabay

Researchers from the University of Melbourne analysed the numbers of men and women authors listed on more than 10 million academic papers, allowing them to calculate the gender gap among researchers, as well as its rate of change for most disciplines of science and medicine.

The team comprised Dr Luke Holman, Associate Professor Devi Stuart-Fox and Dr Cindy Hauser from the University of Melbourne's School of Biosciences.

Dr Holman used computational methods to gather data from the citation databases PubMed and arXiv, and then estimated the gender of 36 million authors based on their names. The 15-year dataset covers more than 6000 academic journals, spans almost all STEMM disciplines, and includes authors from over 100 countries.

The study data has been made publically available through an online tool, in order to help researchers, employers and policy makers identify fields of science that need new initiatives and reforms if they are ever to reach gender parity and is published in PLOS Biology.

Results showed that:

  • 87 of the 115 disciplines examined had significantly fewer than 45% authors, 5 had significantly more than 55%, and the remaining 23 were within 5% of gender parity.
  • Topics such as physics, computer science, mathematics, surgery and chemistry had the fewest women, while health-related disciplines like nursing, midwifery, and palliative care had the most.
  • The is very striking in some areas. For example, Physics presently has around 13% women in senior positions, and this gap is predicted to take 258 years to close
  • Junior researchers were more likely to be women and senior researchers more likely to be men, relative to the overall gender ratio of the discipline in question.
  • Prestigious journals have fewer women authors than do standard journals.
  • Men were estimated to be invited by journals to submit papers at approximately double the rate of women. Wealthy countries, notably Japan, Germany and Switzerland, had fewer women authors than did poorer countries.
  • The PubMed categories Social Sciences (predominantly Social Work journals) and Speech-Language Pathology currently have more than 50% of women authors, and are becoming significantly more female-biased.
  • A small minority of journals bucked the overall trend and had fewer women first authors than expected rather than more; these journals were predominantly well-known, prestigious titles such as Nature, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, and BMJ.

Dr Cindy Hauser said that highly male-biased disciplines tended to show especially slow improvement in the gender ratio with time.

"Of the gender-biased disciplines, almost all are moving towards parity, though some are predicted to take decades or even centuries to reach it."

Associate Professor Devi Stuart Fox said that they chose to focus on academic publications as they are currently the primary means of disseminating scientific knowledge and the principal measure of research productivity, thereby influencing the career prospects and visibility of women in STEMM.

"Author lists of these publications also provided information on the gender ratio of people working in a given field as well as seniority. In most disciplines represented in the dataset, the conventions regarding authorship order mean that first authors are typically junior researchers, while last authors tend to be more senior. "

The team note that the underrepresentation of women in senior authorship positions probably has multiple, complex causes, but that several practical measures that could help to close the gender gap have already been identified, and are awaiting implementation.

These could include reforming academic publishing and peer review, ensuring women have equal access to informal professional networks, affording greater recognition of the extra demands outside the workplace that traditionally fall on women when assessing researchers' achievements, ensuring women receive equal resources at work, better access to parental leave and career break provisions, striving for a representative gender ratio of invited speakers at conferences, and affirmative action during hiring.

Dr Holman said that the new dataset provides new opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of some of these strategies.

"For example, one could measure the impact of double-blind peer review or invitation-based submission models, which have been proposed to affect the proportion of female authors publishing in a given . Additionally, the data could be used in sociological studies to help determine why some countries have a huge shortage of women in STEMM, while others have already achieved parity."

Explore further

New study documents gender disparity in computational research publications

More information: Holman L, Stuart-Fox D, Hauser CE (2018) The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented? PLoS Biol 16(4): e2004956. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2004956
Citation: Your grandchildren may retire before we achieve gender equality in STEMM (2018, April 19) retrieved 24 August 2019 from
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User comments

Apr 19, 2018
Note that most academic papers are typically reviewed without author details so that no bias in reviews is possible. The only factors are the number of papers submitted and their quality.

Invited papers make up a relatively small portion of the overall papers published.

Women choose some professions more frequently than others, why should they be forced into professions they are not especially interested in? When does 'equality' become an imposition mandated by well meaning policy. Isn't forcing gender equality just as discriminatory as forcing male dominance? Isn't it the 'forcing' and 'discrimination' part we are trying to eliminate and allow people to choose whatever they like, even if more of a particular gender, sexual orientation or nationality choose one particular career over another??

Apr 19, 2018
This isn't about individual reviewers not wanting to publish women. This is about society as a whole failing to show women that their insights are valuable and there is a place for them in the sciences. There is no biological force that makes women fundamentally different from men in any cognitive area, so we know that the perceived bias is not a product of innate desires, but rather some persistent societal force -- one that we can overcome.

Apr 20, 2018
Grandchildren retiring sounds far worse than gender inequality in STEMM. Just saying.

Apr 20, 2018
There is no biological force that makes women fundamentally different from men in any cognitive area

We dont know that. There are arguments going both ways.

Apr 20, 2018
There is no biological force that makes women fundamentally different from men in any cognitive area

That is a cheap generalisation. Counterexample: in the colour perception and naming cognitive area women outexcel men by an insanely significant factor. It is probably similar to the way eskimos outperform whities at snow and ice perception and naming.

Btw, men are quite different in terms of cognitive capabilities. Why wouldn't women be different from men?

Apr 20, 2018
Well, using Excel for a scientific problem is a whole different problem (trouble?) altogether. At least the latest variants of Excel (beyond the '97 like) are horribly cluttered and hard to guess at managing. I've quit learning Excel after seeing those & resorted to using free software like Gnumeric. Excel is probably on its downward slope towards maximising inefficiency alongside Windows.

That comes from a man.

Apr 21, 2018
Among other things, they used to be called "STEM fields", now they're "STEMM" for "science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine"? Medical fields have been known of for a long time, if there was a problem in women's participation, it would have been known, Why only now introduce that?
But notice the overriding issue. Maybe women don't want to be in those fields! And maybe many are less likely to be as capable as men! The fact is, this is not a scientific matter, only a political one! The Democratic Racket functions largely by promising groups, or groups' leaders, things they don't deserve, like prestige, in exchange for votes. If they're not capable, that makes no difference. This isn't about truth for them, it's about politics! How much they resemble what they call "climate change deniers"! They're going to force all women into "science" fields if it kills them!

Apr 21, 2018
HA!. The human race might well extinguish before that happens

Jun 01, 2018
Note also that in countries and at times when the students had far less ability to choose their own career and were told what to study at university, as in, for instance, Soviet Russia, there was around a 50/50 split between male and female researchers and papers published in those countries reflected the fairly even divide.

But in countries where people are free to choose, including modern day Russia, the number of women in STEM fields drops dramatically.

This data is readily available for anyone who wants to research the influence of people's choice on gender disparities.

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