JC Ledin 2007 Gender gap in science

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A persistent problem. Traditional gender roles hold back female scientists, EMBO reports, 2007

Anna Ledin, Lutz Bornmann, Frank Gannon & Gerlind Wallon

a study examining the size and the reasons behind the gender gap in science

key points

size of gender gap

  • women <15% of full professorships in Europe, but >50% European students female
  • cites meta-analysis of 21 studies which states: men significant 7% higher chance of receiving grants than women (Bornmann, 2007 [1])
  • own analysis since 1996 for EMBO long-term fellowships (postdoc): success rate of women 20% lower than that of men, despite equal number of applications from men and women

blinding EMBO selection committee to gender of applicant

  • all references to gender were removed before evaluation of applications in 2006
  • similar gender gap of 19% persists! despite 48% of applicant female, 47% of selection committee female
  • conclusions: "The finding that the committee reached the same conclusions when gender-blinded challenges some of the usual explanations given for the differences in success between male and female scientists when in direct competition."

further exploring reason behind gender gap

  • Are reference letters written differently for women than for men? (suggested by Trix & Penska, 2003 [2])
  • test: 283 reports with gender references removed were read to deduce gender of applicant
  • statement were only made were reader was confident: only 19% of cases of which 58% was still wrong
  • conclusion: "reports did not bias the committee"
  • Can a significant difference in bibliometric data be detected? (study of impact factors for 1998 awardees)
  • no difference for number of publications, total citation counts, or total IF before 1998
  • higher total (before and after) IF for women; disappeared when only first and last authorships considered
  • conclusions: "as the difference in average IF for total publications was small, it was probably impossible to detect by the committee"
  • difference in bibliometrics (study of 1998 applicants)
  • women significantly lower average number of publications, lower IF, and total citation counts, esp. for first/last author publications
  • difference in IF no longer significant when all publications considered

follow-up study of 1998 EMBO applicants

  • Can differences in bibliometrics be detected? (1999-2006)
  • female applicants and female awardees published a smaller number of papers
  • total and average impact factor smaller for all female applicants BUT not true for female awardees who were level with males
  • conclusions: "overall gap between men and women was more pronounced in terms of the number and quality of publications than at the time of application"
  • Survey of applicants (60% responded)
  • similar number still working in science (81% male/80% female) but more men as group leader/professor (75%/60%)
  • more male applicants had children: 69% vs 61% which caused an average leave time of 2-3 months for women; men did not take a substantial leave!
  • women moved more for their partner's career: 51% of women, but only 18% of men!
  • conclusions: "even at the PhD level, women already balance career and family commitments, and this presumably affects their research"

further analysis

  • next stage of EMBO support, the Young Investigator Programme (YIP)
  • differences in publishing: less papers, higher impact
  • less mentoring received by YIP female applicants (did receive/want to receive): men 49%/46%, women 32%/71%
  • men perceive less discrimination than women (% of YIP applicants who perceived discrimination against women): 17% of female postdocs, 34% of female group leaders, 2-8% of male applicants

final conclusions

  • subtle differences combine to lower success rates for women in science
  • negative bias against women persists (consciously or unconsciously) and results in less support
  • traditional family roles continue to hamper the career of women


3stars.png I was impressed by the analytic rigour of this study which goes much beyond the common finger pointing and arguments based on weak data. At the same time it is clear that much needs to be changed, especially on the private side of life, which is and should be less influenced by policies. -- Jakob Suckale 04:48, 6 November 2007 (CST)