The photo above was taken by my Wellesley College Freedom Project host, Mustafa Akyol, just after we came out of my lecture last Tuesday night. I’m the person second from the right. Everyone else was apparently there to protest my speaking.
Seeing this remarkable scene, I asked Mustafa if he would take that photo for me, and if we could please stay and talk with these folks rather than just leaving, and he said of course. When I then asked these students what they wanted to talk about, the apparent leader said they all didn’t want to talk to me. I asked why they’d be there if they didn’t have something to say. The leader responded with something like, “We don’t owe you anything!”
I stayed anyway, and students started to talk, to question, to challenge. We ended up staying and talking with them for about 45 minutes.
But a new report says females are catching up
MARCH 8th was International Women’s Day. That seemed to Elsevier, an academic publisher, a good occasion to publish a report looking at the numbers and performance of female scientists around the world. The report, “Gender in the Global Research Landscape”, analysed the authorship of more than 62m peer-reviewed papers published in 27 subject areas over the past 20 years, in 11 mostly rich countries and in the European Union as a whole. The papers and their citations are indexed in Scopus, a database that is run by Elsevier.
In the EU, and in eight of the 11 countries considered, the share of women authors grew from about 30% in the late 1990s to about 40% two decades later. Brazil and Portugal are closest to equality, each just a percentage point shy of it. In Japan, by contrast, barely a fifth of researchers are female—a fact that may reflect the particularly uncool image science has among Japanese schoolgirls.
Women are best represented in subjects related to health care. In nursing and psychology, for example, they outnumber men in several countries, including America and Britain. Less than a quarter of researchers who publish papers in the physical sciences are women. Perhaps as a consequence of this, inventors who register patents are still almost all men. In the places covered by the report the share of patent applications by women ranges from 8% of those filed in Japan to 26% in Portugal. Women are, however, making progress, even in the still-male-heavy world of engineering. Though they constitute only between 10% and 32% of authors of papers in that field in the places the report looks at, the share of those papers in which a woman is the lead author is between 35% and 52%.
All of this is qualified good news. Women do, nevertheless, still suffer from a “leaky pipeline” phenomenon that sees them drop out of scientific careers at a higher rate than men do. At Imperial College, London, regarded by many as Britain’s leading technological university, about 35% of undergraduates are women. But that percentage falls with each step up the career ladder. At the moment, only 15% of Imperial’s professors are women.
Partly, this stems from the fact that when those professors were undergraduates the sex ratio was even worse. But it also reflects the problem of career-building which women face in all areas, not just science. Even in the most progressive countries, they still shoulder the lion’s share of child care and housework. Boosting their numbers in the laboratory will take more than merely convincing girls that science is cool.