Tomorrow is International Women’s Day 2019 (#IWD2019), which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe, as well as highlighting the need to intensify efforts towards reaching gender parity. This year’s theme is #BettertheBalance and a variety of events will be held around the world to raise awareness, celebrate achievement and facilitate change.
The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 predicts that if current trends continue, the overall global gender gap will not be closed for 108 years. More encouragingly, the education-specific gender gap should close in 14 years. Indeed, statistics for 2016–2017 show that a record 53% of doctoral degrees in the United States were awarded to women, including 70.3% of degrees in health sciences. However, substantially more men than women received doctoral degrees in the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering, indicating that there is still a way to go to reach gender parity in STEM education.
In medical research, issues of gender bias persist. Alongside inequalities in more traditional publication metrics such as citations and authorship, a recent analysis of biomedical awards over the past 50 years has highlighted that despite a five-fold improvement, women win only 30% of awards and are less likely to receive recognition for their research than for non-research activities, such teaching or advocacy. Over 40% of women with full-time scientific jobs leave the sector or go part time after having their first child (compared with 23% of men) and women are less likely than men to give talks at academic conferences or meetings. In a recent study published in The Lancet, when funders relied on peer review assessing the scientist, male investigators were 1.4 times more likely to receive funding than female investigators, while proposals were funded in approximately equal proportions when review was project focused.
However, action is being taken to address gender inequality, for example through proposals to reduce gender disparities at universities. Researchers recently searched through 20 years of acknowledgments identifying women who made ‘important but unrecognised’ contributions in genetics. Meanwhile a British physicist has dedicated her time to improving the representation of women scientists and engineers on Wikipedia.
What will you do? While IWD occurs annually, the global campaign theme continues year-round to encourage action. Get involved by striking the #BalanceforBetter pose and join the #IWD2019 conversation.
Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell, DPhil from Aspire Scientific