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Trending Science: More women in science? Probably not in our lifetime

New research suggests that closing the gender gap in science could take several generations.
Trending Science: More women in science? Probably not in our lifetime
What’s happening with all those promising initiatives around the world to turn curious young girls into adults passionate about science? Even though an analysis of millions of academic articles over the years says that the present is discouraging, what’s more worrying is the future.

A study published in the journal ‘PLOS Biology’ found that the gender gap in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) is likely to continue for many decades, particularly in surgery, computer science, physics and maths. The bad news gets even worse. In disciplines like physics and computer science, bridging the gender gap might take hundreds of years.

Scientists from the University of Melbourne used PubMed and ArXiv, two large databases that contain thousands of published scientific papers. They analysed the names of more than 36 million authors listed in nearly 10 million articles published in 6 000 academic journals over the past 15 years. Findings show that physics, computer science, maths and chemistry had the fewest women, while nursing had the most.

How long until we achieve gender parity?

Some progress is being made in gender imbalance. Almost every STEMM field is evening out in terms of gender. Women are increasingly working in fields dominated by men, such as physics (17 % women). Men are working more and more in domains ruled by women, like nursing (75 % women). But predictions to narrow the gap in some fields are depressing. Here are the bleak forecasts: 320 years for nursing, computer science (280), physics (258) and maths (60).

“My predictions for parity assume that the proportion of women in STEMM will continue to change at its current sluggish rate,” evolutionary biologist Dr Luke Holman and first author told ‘Forbes’. “We could easily intervene to recruit and retain more women in male-biased research disciplines, and achieve gender balance much sooner than I predicted.”

The researchers also examined the difference across 100 countries. They found a larger gender gap in Germany, Switzerland and Japan, and a smaller one in some European, African and South American countries.

Solutions to gender imbalance

The study concluded that further interventions are needed for women to be equally represented in STEMM careers. Additional reforms in education, mentoring and academic publishing are required.

Quoted by the ‘BBC’, Dr Holman said: “The solutions are out there, but it’s difficult to bring about change and get people to act on them.” He added: “We haven’t acted on them enough because it’s difficult to change the way that people have always done things and it’s maybe not afforded as high a priority as it should be by people in positions of power in the scientific industry and academia.”

Dr Holman and his colleagues are certainly doing their part. They created a free interactive online tool to encourage academics, administrators, funding agencies, lawmakers, scientific societies and the general public to further explore the STEMM gender gap.

Source: Based on media reports

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