A new meta-analysis predicts the gender gap will stay in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) for generations.
The gender gap will be rooted in STEMM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — for generations to come.
That’s the grim conclusion that researchers from the University of Melbourne reached after analyzing more than 10 million academic papers spanning 15 years for gender representation.
The team led by Dr. Luke Holman, associate professor Devi Stuart-Fox and Dr. Cindy Hauser from the university’s School of Biosciences guessed the gender of 36 million authors by their names, and calculated the rate of change for science and medicine fields. And they found that the great-granddaughters of today’s Gen Zers may retire before they see the gender gap close in some STEMM fields.
While women make up about 40% of the global workforce in science and medicine as a whole, most (87) of the 115 disciplines studied had women authors on less than half (45%) of papers. Physics, computer science, mathematics, surgery and chemistry had the fewest women. In fact, physics had the most striking gender gap with just 13% women in senior positions, and the team predicts it will take 258 years to close it.
Holman also calculates it will take another 280 years to see gender parity in computer science; 60 years in mathematics; and 52 years in surgery. On the flip side, nursing is so predominantly female (75%) that he predicts it will be 320 years to close the gender gap there.
This gender disparity is compounded by the gender wage gap, which will also take at least 100 years to close. Women in the U.S. still make an average of just 80 cents on a man’s dollar, and the most recent study by the World Economic Forum in November predicted that the gender pay gap won’t close for another century. And it’s getting worse; the WEF had predicted it would take 80 years the year before.
The news isn’t all bad, as health-related disciplines such as the aforementioned nursing, midwifery and palliative care had the most female researchers writing papers. And more than half of the authors of social sciences and speech-language pathology papers are currently women.
“Of the gender-biased disciplines, almost all are moving towards parity, though some are predicted to take decades or even centuries to reach it,” said Hauser in a statement.
Part of the gap stems from some of the report’s other findings: Men are estimated to be invited to submit papers to journals at about double the rate of women, for example. And senior researchers are more likely to be men, while junior researchers are more likely to be women.
The authors made some suggestions for leveling the academic playing field, such as ensuring women receive equal resources at work, as well as equal access to informal professional networks; striving to have a more equal gender ratio of speakers at conferences; providing better parental leave and career break provisions to women, who often bear the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities; and recognizing the extra demands outside of the workplace that tend to fall on women, such as being caregivers for family members, when assessing researchers’ achievements.
“My predictions for parity assume that the proportion of women in STEMM will continue to change at its current sluggish rate,” wrote Holman. “But if my predictions are correct or even close, we need to do more to make science a more attractive career for women … We could easily intervene to recruit and retain more women in male-biased research disciplines, and achieve gender balance much sooner than I predicted.”
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