You are here

Tackling Science’s Gender Parity Problem

Feb 10,2018 - Last updated at Feb 10,2018

By Stephen Matlin, Vivian W.W. Yam, Henning Hopf, Alain Krief, and Goverdhan Mehta

LONDON — Two years ago, the United Nations designated February 11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. As we approach another commemoration, it is worth reflecting on female scholars’ countless contributions to science and technology.

But even more important is to consider why the UN acted in the first place. Simply put, women have long suffered in their pursuit of science careers, and the global scientific community must recommit to making them full partners in the quest for human knowledge.

Achieving gender parity would yield an enormous payoff for scientific discovery. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Poland’s Marie Curie, one of the greatest scientists of all time. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two, and the only person to do so in two different sciences: physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911.

Curie faced immense gender barriers during her career. In 1891, having been blocked from studying or working at universities in Poland, she joined the Sorbonne in Paris. Working with her husband, Pierre Curie, she conducted groundbreaking research on radiation. But when their work was nominated for the 1903 physics prize, her name was omitted. After her husband complained, the Nobel committee made an exceptional concession, and she was added to the award. She and her husband shared it with the French physicist Henri Becquerel.

Much has changed since then, and gender equality in the sciences has greatly improved. For example, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science awards programme, which honours female researchers working in the life and physical sciences, is now in its 20th year. Past winners have included experts in everything from quantum electronics to molecular biology, one of us, Vivian Wing-Wah Yam, won the prize in 2011.

Nonetheless, gender parity in the sciences remains a distant goal. Evidence suggests that bias is endemic in nearly every scientific field, and that institutional discrimination is still crippling careers and impeding scientific innovation.

The gender gap in science begins at a young age. As early as elementary school, girls are discouraged from pursuing careers in math and science, and this bias continues into university, where fewer women study for PhDs, hold research positions, or join the faculty. Globally, less than 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are female.

Even for women who do get on the academic ladder, the climb is slowed by inadequate opportunities for grants, promotions, and leadership. One measure of this is seen in publication rates. Producing scholarly papers is critical for career advancement, but studies show that women publish fewer articles than their male colleagues, are less likely to be primary authors, and rarely serve as reviewers.

Worse, sexual harassment is prevalent in science-related academia and industry. Like many other professions, the science community needs to do more to address the issue in a meaningful way.
The cumulative effect of this discrimination is to rob the world of talented female scientists. Even among those with science-related degrees, fewer women than men remain in their field of study or are ever recognised for their work. Of the 599 Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences since 1901, only 18 have gone to women, just 3 per cent of the total.

Major changes — from grade schools to technology companies — are needed to build gender parity into science-related fields. Easy fixes can target individual industries. For example, bringing more female editors into the field of science publishing could raise the percentage of women appearing in peer-reviewed publications.

Other adjustments would have broader reach. A recent study of grant programmes in Canada found that when referees are trained to recognise gender discrimination, funding outcomes naturally rebalance. Launching similar training efforts in other countries could have a profound impact on how science grants are awarded — and how many are awarded to women.

And yet, while individual tweaks can be beneficial, the world’s scientific community must move beyond piecemeal solutions to tackle gender bias in a more holistic way. Academic institutions, research centres, and science-related employers must commit to diversifying their bases of recruitment, and improve efforts to recognise and respond to discrimination. Moreover, through improving cultural competencies — the ability to recognise and respond to biases — organisations can create environments that are equitable and physically, spiritually, socially, and emotionally safe for both women and men.

Achieving gender equity, diversity, and inclusion in the sciences will require cooperation across many sectors. It will also take time. But, 150 years after Marie Curie’s birth, it is clear that action is long overdue.

That is why this February 11, as the world observes the third International Day of Women and Girls in Science, scientists from across the disciplines should take a moment to reflect on how far their female colleagues have come, and to remember how far we still have to go.

Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org

Stephen Matlin is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London. Vivian Wing-Wah Yam is Professor of Chemistry and Energy at the University of Hong Kong. Henning Hopf is a professor in the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Technische Universität Braunschweig. Alain Krief is Executive Director of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development, Emeritus Professor in the Chemistry Department at Belgium’s Namur University, and an adjunct professor in the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi. Goverdhan Mehta is University Distinguished Professor and Chair in the School of Chemistry at the University of Hyderabad. 

up
89 users have voted.

Comments

THANKS TO THE AUTHORS OF THIS ARTICLE. THIS IS AN ISSUE THAT WORRIES ME A LOT AND I WILL FIGHT IT UNTIL MY LAST DAY ON THIS EARTH BECAUSE I HAVE A WIFE, SISTER, MOTHER, CLASS MATES FROM FOUR DIFFERENT UNIVERSITIES THAT I GRADUATED FROM THAT ARE WOMEN, SMART, GREAT IN SCIENCE AND MATH. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I TUTORED A YOUNG WOMEN AS A PART TIME JOB WHILE AT THE UNIVERSITY AS PART OF MY WORK-STUDY PROGRAM. FIRST, MY MOTHER WAS NOT ANTI-SCIENCE NOR MY WIFE WHO HOLDS A DOCTORATE DEGREE IN SCIENCE, SISTER OR ALL THE WOMEN IN MY CLASSES FROM UNDERGRADUATE TO GRADUATE SCHOOLS AND MEDICAL SCHOOL. THE YOUNG WOMAN THAT I TUTORED IN MATH AND STATISTICS DID END UP CHANGING HER MAJOR FROM ECONOMICS TO MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, GRADUATED WITH HIGH HONOR AND WENT ON TO MIT FOR HER MASTERS DEGREE AND NOW ONE OF THE HIGH RATED ENGINEERS IN USA. THE PROBLEM TODAY REGARDING THIS ISSUE IS NOT WAHT IT USE TO BE IN THE PAST WHEN WOMEN AND GIRLS ARE REGARDED AS SUB-HUMAN OR LIKE AN EGG SHELLS BUT WAR AGAINST WOMEN TO MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO BY MEN WHO ARE THE JUDGES AND THE JURRY. THEY WILL NOT LET GO THE BONDAGES OF THE PAST. CULTURES, TRADITIONS AND PUBLIC POLICIES ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF OUR SOCIETIES AND OUR SOCIETIES ARE GOVERNED BY MEN WHO WILL NOT LET GO ALL THE TABOOS OF THE PAST BECAUSE THEY ARE AFRAID OF LOOSING CONTROL OF THEIR SEX SLAVES ON BONDAGES. NOW THE SAUDI WOMEN ARE READY TO START THEIR ENGINES, DRIVE TO WORK AND PUT THEIR MATH AND SCIENCE EDUCATION TO WORK AND THIS NEW POLICY IS SURE TO LET THE SOCIETY AND PARENTS KNOW THAT THERE ARE NO PHYSIOLOGIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A MAN AND WOMAN RELATING TO SCIENCE EXCEEPT PANTS AND SKIRTS. GOING BACK TO THE FACTS, I MUST CONGRATULATE NORTHEASTERN UNIVERITY IN BOSTON FOR SHOOTING DOWN ALL THE HYSTERIA OF WOMEN BRAIN POWER IN MATH AND SCIENCE BY PRODUCING THEIR FIRST RHODE SCHOLAR IN HISTORY IN 2015 THIS HAPPENED TO BE A YOUNG BLACK WOMEN WHO GRADUATED ON TOP OF THE CLASS IN ENGINEERING. SHE IS NOW DOING HER GRADUATE STUDIES AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY. BY THE WAY THE DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AT THIS UNIVERSITY IS A WOMAN AND YET THIS UNIVERSITY IS ONE OF THE TOP RATED UNIVERSITIES IN THE WORLD THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF AN INSTITUTIONS THAT THE WORLD AND PUBLIC SHOULD SUPPORT AND INVEST IN. IN OUR WORLD TODAY, THE GREATEST DANGER ON EARTH IS FEAR OF UNKNOWN BASED ON DELUSSION AND HYPOTHESIS THAT WONENS POWER AND INTELLECTUAL CAPABILITIES ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF WHAT THEIR MASTERS SAY OR DO. UNFORTUNATELY, THE UN AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL POLICY MAKING POWERS HAVE DONE NOTHING BUT PRODUCING PAPER WORK OR BLUE PRINTS THAT ARE RUSTING IN THE ARCHIVES OF PAPER PUSHING POLICY THAT ENDS UP ON THE TABLES OF MEN THAT LOVES THEIR WIFES AND DAUGHTERS BUT PLACED THEM BEHIND OF IRON BARS UNDER LOCK AND KEY OUT OF FEAR. IN MY COUNTRY, USA, SOME PEOPLE MAY SAY THAT MRS CLINTON LOST THE ELECTION BECAUSE SHE RAN A POOR ELECTION WHICH IS FALSE. SHE SIMPLY LOST THE ELECTION BECAUSE OF FEAR THAT A WOMAN CAN BECOME THE COMMANDER IF CHIEF AND EVEN SOME WOMEN ESPECIALLY AMONG THE EVANGELICAL HYPOCHRISTIANS THAUGHT THAT IT WILL BE A BROOKEN HARAM FOR A WOMAN TO BE PRESIDENT OF USA. THIS IN FACT BRINGS THE ISSUES AND THE PART THAT RELIGION PLAYS IN THE WORLD TODAY. WHILE IN USA, WE FIGHT AGAINST THE VARIANCES OF EQUAL PAY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, IN JORDAN AND MOST ARAB COUNTRIES, WOMEN ARE ONLY CITIZENS ON PAPER AND NOT IN EQUAL HUMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS, PARTICIPATIONS, LAND OWNERSHIPS, AND IN ANY WAY(S) YOU CHOOSE TO MEASURE EQUALITY, RIGHTS AND ASPIRATIONS NEVER MIND TOLORATING THEM IN MATH, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. THE SAD STORY BEHIND ALL THESE MICKY-MOUSE POLICIES IS THAT THE WESTERN WORLD HAVE CONTINUED TO TOLORATE THESE INHUMANITY BY TURNING BLIND EYES TO ALL THE COUNTRIES AND THEIR STRONG MEN LEADERS AS LONG AS THEY JOIN THE CLUB OF THE COILLIONS FOR MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO AND KEEP THE WORLD DISTRATED BY WARS AND WAR MACHINES. NOT UNTIL ANY SO-CALLED INTERNATIONAL NUMS AS IT IS TODAY ARE BACKED UP WITH HONESTY, INTEGRETY, TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY. HOW MANY DICTECTOR LEADERS ALL OVER THE WORLD THAT DISCRIMINATE ANAINST WOMEN DO WE IN USA OR ANY OTHER COUNTRY SUPPORT TODAY, ARM THEM, BRIBE THEM WHILE IGNORING THE INHUMAN TREATMENT OF WOMEN TODAY?. WHO WAS THE FIRST IN THE JORDANIAN HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION EXAM RESULTS. IT IS NOT ABU THIS OR ABU THAT BUT GIRLS. WE NEED CIVIL, HUMAN AND GENDER RIGHTS THAT CAN BE ENFORCED WITHOUT BIAS AGAINST WOMEN.

Maybe the west has the problem of women not be taken seriously or allowed to pursue it in a encouraging way, but it's not the case in Arab countries, where females, due to the single gender educational system, can, and are free and encourage, to pursue science and math majors. So, this article is a waste of space.

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
12 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Newsletter

Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.