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Women underrepresented in science

To mark UN International Day of Women and girls in Science, on 11 February, we’ve been taking a look at the issue of gender equality in science as a profession. It seems that despite numerous initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality in the workplace, discrimination against women in the field of science continues to be a persistent and systemic issue. From gender bias in the hiring process to unequal pay and limited opportunities for advancement, female scientists face a multitude of challenges that can limit their ability to succeed in the field.

Women's Presence in Science

While the number of scientists per million inhabitants in the world increased to 1352.5 in 2021 from 1143.1 in 2015 (UNESCO IUS.Stat), numerous studies reveal persistent underrepresentation of women in many fields of science. The latest OECD International Survey of Scientific Authors (ISSA2) found that only about 40% of all scientists across OECD nations are women, with Luxembourg having the lowest representation at 23% and Lithuania the highest at 56%. The gap is even wider in terms of authorship of publications, with female authors representing 30% of the total. The extent of the disparity varies widely based on the field of research, with nearly equal representation in terms of authorship in social sciences and psychology but only 15% in physics and astronomy. These results highlight that female scientists continue to face substantial barriers to entering and advancing in their respective fields. 

Gender pay gap in science

The same survey (ISSA2) also highlights the ongoing pay disparity between male and female scientists in terms of authorship of scientific reports. The study found that female authors of scientific work earn, on average, 5 to 6% less than their male counterparts. The gap remained even after accounting for individual and job-related factors and was not reflective of any lower quality of work by women, or of women being cited less or published in less prestigious journals. The pay disparity is especially pronounced in fields such as engineering and computer sciences, where women earn nearly 27% less, and in senior management positions, where the gap is 15%. The disparity in pay presents additional challenges for women looking to advance their careers.  

Future projections

It may not all be doom and gloom, however, as a new study, conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Montreal (Equity for Women in Science), reveals that the representation of women in scientific authorship has been steadily increasing. The study analysed nearly 5.5 million scientific papers published between 2008 and 2020, using machine learning to estimate the gender of authors based on their names. The researchers found that the percentage of women contributing to scientific papers increased each year, with psychology reaching almost equal representation between men and women in 2021. The study projects that biology will achieve gender parity in 2069, followed by chemistry in 2087.  

That said, in many fields, including engineering, mathematics and physics, it will take a great deal longer to reach gender parity, with estimated dates ranging from 2144 to 2158. 

Overall, its important to recognize that discrimination against women and girls in science is not just an issue of fairness and equality, but also has far-reaching consequences for the advancement of science as a whole. It’s therefore vital to find ways to ensure female scientists have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed and make meaningful contributions to their fields.