Research reveals low exposure of excellent work by female scientists
Scientists at the University of Sheffield have found that high quality science by female academics is underrepresented in comparison to that of their male counterparts.
The researchers analysed the genders of invited speakers at the most prestigious gatherings of evolutionary biologists in Europe - six biannual congresses of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) and found that male speakers outnumbered women.
Even in comparison to the numbers of women and men among world class scientists – from the world top ranked institutions for life sciences, and authors in the top-tier journals Nature and Science - women were still underrepresented among invited speakers.
The researchers also found that women were underrepresented at the 2011 congress because men accepted invitations more often than women.
Dr Hannah Dugdale from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, explained: “It’s important that we understand why this is happening and what we can do to address it – high quality science by women has low exposure at international level and this is constraining evolutionary biology from reaching its full potential. We’re currently investigating the reasons behind this lower acceptance rate – it could relate to childcare requirements, lower perception of scientific ability, being uncomfortable with self-promotion – there are many potential contributing factors.”
Dr Julia Schroeder, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornitholgoy in Germany said: “The most demanding phase of a career in Biology, when it is important to communicate one’s findings, and to build networks with other scientists, coincides with the age at which women's fertility starts to decline, meaning it is their last chance to have a family - unlike men. Thus, women scientists of this career phase may be pregnant, or have children. Stay-at-home-dads are rare, therefore, these women are less flexible about travelling for work, and may be more likely to decline invitations to speak. We have yet to investigate whether this is indeed the cause, but it is a likely factor that starts the downward spiral: lower exposure and fewer networking opportunities are costly to the career. Fewer women in top positions mean fewer female role models for students who aspire to be scientists.”
Kirsty Grainger, Head of Skills and Careers at the Natural Environment Research Council said: “Taking action to foster a culture that supports equality and diversity within research and that encourages better representation and support for women at all stages of their career is extremely important. We need to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest and best researchers, regardless of their background, into the UK research base. Understanding and addressing disincentives and indirect obstacles to recruitment, retention and progression in research careers is an essential part of this”.
The research has been published by the Journal of Evolutionary Biology and the full paper can be downloaded here. Dr Schroeder was funded by The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Volkswagen Foundation. Dr Dugdale was funded by NERC and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.
The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 of the brightest students from 117 countries coming to learn alongside 1,209 of the world’s best academics, it is clear why the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading universities. Staff and students at Sheffield are committed to helping discover and understand the causes of things - and propose solutions that have the power to transform the world we live in.
A member of the Russell Group, the University of Sheffield has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007), recognising the outstanding contribution by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
One of the markers of a leading university is the quality of its alumni and Sheffield boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students. Its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, Siemens, Yorkshire Water, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. The White Rose University Consortium (White Rose) is a strategic partnership between 3 of the UK's leading research universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Since its creation in 1997 White Rose has secured more than £100M into the Universities.
For further information please contact:
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046