Where have all the women gone?!?

 

Where have all the women gone? Long time passing… where have all the women gone, long time ago?

Perhaps this version of Peter Paul and Mary’s song “Where have all the flowers gone?” should become the anthem of women in science.

This morning I stumbled across this interesting article in the Harvard Business Review.  It draws attention to the fact that after obtaining a PhD women in science tend to simply disappear from academia.  So why is this???

Interestingly they found that women are actually significantly MORE LIKELY to get first author publications (albeit in slightly lower impact journals), but are LESS LIKELY to obtain the last author publications which are essential for career advancement.  This is reflected in the lower rates of R01 grants obtained by women (R01 grants are provided by the NIH and reflect the growth from a junior scientist to a principle investigator). However, I think the most striking finding was that women seem to receive less credit for their work, as explained here:

“For example, while doubling the number of citations per paper reduced the transition time from postdoc grant to R01 by about 20% for men, the same increase in citations per paper only reduced the time to R01 by roughly 13% for women. Even after controlling for a large number of other attributes, such as the journals they published in and whether they specialized in particular areas, a woman will take about one year longer to receive an R01 grant than a man with the same number of citations.”

This is somewhat reminiscent of the good old male/female resume study demonstrating the systemic bias still present in the STEM fields (along with most other fields to a certain extent).

It will be interesting to see the results of the authors’ future study looking at women’s access to mentors and organizational support, perhaps this will shed some light on where the women are going.  As a young woman in a STEM field I for one certainly do notice the lack of female mentors.  This also extends to the culture of “talking science over a beer” at the local pub, something which I’ve noticed male professors are much more likely to do with male junior scientists than female junior scientists.  I doubt this is intentional, however regardless of intent these  habits certainly add to the barriers faced by women trying to work their way up the academic ladder.

Hopefully one day there will be true equality in STEM fields.  We have certainly come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done.

 

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