A new study reveals that most of the scientific community is unaware of gender disparity in the research world

A study led by researcher Anna Lupon from the Centre for Advanced Studies in Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) together with scientists from 23 more institutions from all over Spain and Europe published in the journal Plos One has found that most scientists are unaware of the gender disparity in the scientific world.

The paper’s scenario is the 1st Congress of the Iberian Society of Ecology (SIBECOL), held in Barcelona in 2019, where the female representation has been analyzed. Choosing this congress is due to the fact that ecology is one of the scientific disciplines where there is a greater presence of women. More precisely the authors of the study have focused on the role, perception, personal experience and visibility of women scientists at this event.

Image 1. 1st Congress of the Iberian Society of Ecology (SIBECOL). Source: SIBECOL

Evident and persistent biases

Despite recent policies aimed at reducing inequalities between men and women in science, gender biases are still evident in key aspects of scientific career progression, such as the acquisition of grants or awards, attendance at conferences or appearances in the first or last authorship positions in relevant articles.

These gender imbalances, which according to the authors of the study are alarming in themselves, reduce the visibility of women researchers and can trigger vicious circles of gender bias that explain the persistence of the glass ceiling.

In this sense, conferences and congresses are ideal platforms to study gender gaps in the scientific world, as they are important cultural events that reflect the barriers and obstacles that exist for women in science.

Only 33% of the keynote speakers were women

Although in terms of attendance, authorship and presentations the conference was gender balanced, women scientists were less represented in the most prestigious positions of the conference, such as keynote presentations (33%) or last authorship (29%). In addition, women were in the minority (less than 40%) in both organising and scientific committees.

These results are in line with previous studies showing that, although the field of ecology is generally dominated by women at the student level, women are still under-represented in high-level and prestigious academic positions.

Less participation in Question Time

In the talks analyzed, the proportion of women and men in the audience was similar (40% and 60% respectively) regardless of the speaker’s gender. However, the total number of attendees varied according to the gender of the speaker, being on average 12.3% higher when the speaker was a man than when the speaker was a woman.

Another worrying finding of the study is that women participated less than men in the question-and-answer sessions. Specifically, of all the talks that received questions, only 37% of the time woman ask the first question.

On the other hand, women and men asked a similar number of questions when the speaker/moderator was a woman, while men asked more questions when the speaker/moderator was a man, results which show that it is important to have women in visible or prestigious positions in order to increase women’s sense of belonging in science.

Image 2. 1st Congress of the Iberian Society of Ecology (SIBECOL). Source: SIBECOL

Towards more inclusive scientific conferences

However, the results of the study highlight the importance of moving towards greater inclusion of women, as this “invisibility” can affect their well-being and motivation to pursue a career in science. Moreover, as the authors of the study stress, “it can compromise the overall quality of academia, which benefits from the integration of different perspectives”. They are therefore committed to further assessing the factors that hinder women’s success in science in order to ensure an equitable future in scientific disciplines.

“This multidimensional approach to the study is fundamental to provide a comprehensive assessment of the situation of women in science and to develop evidence-based policy making to promote inclusive scientific conferences,” explains Anna Lupon, researcher at CEAB-CSIC.

Article reference:

Lupon A, Rodríguez-Lozano P, Bartrons M, Anadon-Rosell A, Batalla M, Bernal S, et al. (2021) Towards women-inclusive ecology: Representation, behavior, and perception of women at an international conference. PLoS ONE 16(12): e0260163. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260163

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