How is the current STEM gender bias?


International Day of Women and Girls in Science

This is a guest article by Simona Dossi for International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2022.

The UN General Assembly declared February 11th as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to inspire progress toward gender equality in science and technology. This day prompts reflections on the value of inclusivity in the STEM fields and how it can be improved. This article presents some statistics on the current and recent situation regarding the gender gap in STEM academia and industry.

 A study published in PNAS in early 2020 compared gender inequality across 83 countries and 13 disciplines. By looking at the publication history of scientific authors between 1955 and 2010 the authors found the following trends over their data:

  • The overall author gender ratio is 73% male and 27% female, across disciplines and countries – and has increased from 12% in 1955 to 35% in 2005. STEM disciplines experience the lowest gender ratios: Engineering with 18% female authors, and Physics and Mathematics with 15% .
  • Male authors published higher total number of papers (on average 13.2 papers over a full career for male authors, and 9.6 papers for female authors), however both male and female authors published with the same average annual rate (1.3 papers per year). This could be explained by the differing average career lengths, 9.3 years for female authors, which is 1.7 years shorter for male authors.
  • Academic career impact was measured by the number of citations received after 10 years of publication per paper; this impact was found to differ singificantly between genders. Male authors received 30% more citations than female authors did.

The 2020 ‘Women in Science’ UNESCO Institute for Statistics fact sheet provides more insight on how this imbalance between male and female researchers compares across countries. The percentages for different continents are shown in the figure below. Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean regions had the highest percentage women researchers with 49% and 46% respectively. Venezuela is stated as having the highest national percentage with 61.4% in 2016. Europe has a lower overall percentage split, the Netherlands having the lowest national average with 26.4% women researchers in 2017.

Average percent of women researchers across disciplines in different world regions in 2017
Average percent of women researchers across disciplines in different world regions in 2017

The workforce WISE campaigns provide statistics on women in the UK STEM workforce, using data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force.

  • Women are a minority in the STEM sector workforce, the percentage of women STEM employees has increased from 21% in 2016, to 24% in 2019. The gener split diffes for specific disciplines: engineering professionals rank lowest with 10% women engineers in 2019, and science professionals much higher with 46% women.

These statistics provide some information on the current and recent gender gap situation in STEM academia and industry. Although gender differences in participation in academia and specifically STEM disciplines have decreased over the years, the disparity is still present currently.

How can these gender differences be better understood and more successfully addressed? What aspect of women's participation in STEM would you like more information on?


Simona Dossi

Simona Dossi
Department of Mechanical Engineering

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