In recognition of the 106th International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, countries and organizations have rallied to promote the significance and importance of women worldwide. At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a panel of female authors discussed this year’s IWD theme “Be Bold for Change.” The City of Brisbane, Australia, hosted an International Women’s Day Fun Run in support of women with breast cancer. The training company General Assembly presented 11 Women’s Day Lightning Talks around the globe, featuring panels of “female leaders who are spearheading local innovation in tech, culture, social media and politics.”
The scientific-publishing behemoth Elsevier has now released its own lengthy study on the changing roles of women in research. In “Gender in the Global Research Landscape,” a team of Elsevier researchers reviewed data from the company's Scopus and ScienceDirect databases covering two separate five-year periods, 1996-2001 and 2011-2015, comparing authorship of papers from 12 different geographical regions as well as across 27 Scopus topics.
There’s a big caveat in assessing this report: It is not truly comprehensive. In particular, it omits data from China, and thus contributions of female scientists from a region that’s emerged as one of the world’ biggest single producers of scientific research. It also doesn't cover the work of unpublished and unpatented female scientists working in industry.
Still, within the sphere that it does cover, the report reveals some intriguing trends. One key finding, highlighted here, notes that the number of women researchers and inventors publishing papers and filing patents has increased. Another finding shows that research articles authored by women are cited and downloaded at a rate similar to those authored by men—even though women are still publishing fewer papers.
While this study offers some signs of progress toward reducing the gender disparities that plague many STEM fields, and can also be viewed as an extensive and much-needed benchmark of the progress made by women in recent decades, it may best serve as a means of identifying where gaps exist, both in available survey data and in global scientific gender diversity. Obviously, any study will be limited by data availability, and the sheer scope of women in STEM makes assessing progress a challenge. Still, the Elsevier study looks like a useful data point—and it will be interesting to see whether the same data set gives rise to more comprehensive assessments in the future.
Diversity, Women in Science
The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided a grant asking this very question. Now Joan C. Williams and Kate Massinger of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law are posing a possible answer: harassment.
In their recent article in The Atlantic, How Women Are Harassed Out of Science, Williams and Massinger share the experiences that STEM students and professionals have encountered at all levels of their careers, ranging from sexual harassment to pregnancy harassment. Some of these instances were overt; others were more subtle threats to funding and snide remarks.
Although this study seems to offer a discouraging and depressing prognosis for women in STEM, it is actually one of several forums bringing this “open secret” into conversation. At the 2015 American Geophysical Union annual meeting, a town-hall session was held to discuss harassment. Other steps towards progress are occurring as well—of the 1,000 women postdocs surveyed by the authors, 59% belonged to institutions with maternity leave policies and 53% reported supportive supervisors. Some funding sources, such as NSF, provide supplemental funding to their supported projects for parental leave needs.
American Association of University Women and Know Your IX, both mentioned in the article, are two valuable resources available to support both women and parents experiencing difficulty in the workplace.