Friday, 30 September 2016

Women hold majority of research roles By Christin Wiedemann, SCWIST President

No, it is not a utopian dream – it is actually reality. But not in Canada.

When talking about gender diversity in science, or the lack thereof, it is important to consider global differences. While only 28% of researchers globally are women, there are countries where women make up around half of the research workforce, and in 
Myanmar the number is a whopping 86%. Part of the answer to the question “Where are the women in science?” is Argentina, Venezuela, Thailand, Malaysia and New Zealand.

In spite of some countries having a large share of women in research roles, the overall picture painted in the article “Where are the women in science” from December 2015 is still gloomy.

Not only are women still underrepresented in research in most countries, in some cases the share of women in STEM training programs or STEM jobs is actually decreasing. When talking about gender diversity, it is essential to look at long-term trends rather than just current numbers.

I would like to add another caveat. It is great that there are countries where women are the majority in research, but I believe it is important to try to understand why. When I was at CERN almost 15 years ago, I commented to the female, Italian, physicist that I shared an office with that there appeared to be an unusually high share of women in physics in Italy. Her jaundiced response was that physics as a science had a very low status in Italy compared to other natural sciences and that physicists were underpaid compared to other researchers. Hence fewer men wanted to go into physics, leaving the field open for women to enter. 

The data presented in the article also do not distinguish between junior and senior roles, and typically the gender gap increases with the level of seniority.

There is still work to do in order to improve gender diversity both nationally and globally, and part of that work includes collecting and gathering data to further develop cross-nationally comparable statistics on women in STEM.

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