Gender Disparities Persist Despite Increase in Female Representation Among Scholarly Researchers


In the last twenty years, there has been notable progress in the participation of women in academic research. Despite this progress, gender disparities remain a critical issue in academia, especially when considering specific fields, career stages, and research impacts. A comprehensive study by Elsevier, a Dutch academic publishing and global information analytics company, sheds light on these persistent inequalities.

The study reveals that while there have been increases in female representation among researchers globally and in the United States, the pace of change is slow, and substantial disparities still exist, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. Understanding and addressing these disparities is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and diverse research environment that can effectively tackle the world's most pressing challenges.

Gender Disparities Persist Despite Increase in Female Representation Among Scholarly Researchers

(Photo : PEXELS / Artem Podrez)

Increasing Female Representation in Research

Female representation among scholarly researchers has shown a notable increase over the past two decades, both in the United States and globally. According to a large-scale study by Elsevier, the percentage of active female researchers worldwide jumped from 28% to 41% between 2001 and 2022. In the U.S., this figure rose from 30% in 2000 to 42% in 2022. Despite these positive trends, the study highlights that gender disparities persist when examining specific fields, career stages, and research impacts. Mirit Eldor, managing director of Life Sciences Solutions at Elsevier, emphasizes the need for a wider talent pool and more diverse perspectives to tackle global challenges effectively.

To produce its analysis, Elsevier used an AI-driven algorithm to infer the gender of indexed authors from around 20 million researchers recorded in Scopus, a comprehensive abstract and citation database. The data indicates a general upward trend in female representation, but the pace of change remains insufficient for achieving equality in the foreseeable future. The report notes that, although there are increases in female representation in fields like mathematics, engineering, and computer science, parity with men is not expected until 2052.

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Persistent Gender Disparities in STEM Fields

Despite progress in some areas, men continue to dominate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields both in the U.S. and globally. The study found that the share of global STEM researchers who are women increased from 26% in 2000 to nearly 39% in 2022. In the U.S., the proportion of active female researchers in STEM remains lower, rising from 17% in 2000 to 29% in 2022. Eldor points out that societal perceptions about what fields are deemed "appropriate" for women continue to influence these numbers. For instance, women represent more than half of researchers in nursing and psychology but only about a quarter in mathematics.

The study also highlights differences in research impact. Publications by female STEM researchers in the U.S. have a field-weighted citation impact of 1.21, which is above the global average for women at 0.98 but still less than the 1.27 impact of American male STEM researchers' publications. These disparities underline the need for targeted efforts to support female researchers in STEM and address systemic biases that hinder their progress.

Variation in Gender Disparities by Country

Gender disparities among researchers also vary widely by country. The U.S. falls just above the global average, with female researchers making up 42% of active researchers. In contrast, countries like Portugal and Argentina have achieved gender parity, with women making up around 51% of researchers. However, countries such as Japan and Egypt have significantly lower female representation, with women constituting roughly 22% and 30% of researchers, respectively.

The study found that gender representation decreases at more senior levels of academia. Women comprise 45% of researchers with fewer than five years of experience, but this figure drops to 27% for those with 21 or more years of experience. Challenges such as maintaining work-life balance, combating gender bias, and navigating institutional and funding disparities contribute to this decline. Ensuring progress in gender diversity requires policies that prioritize retaining early-career women in research and creating more supportive environments.

Moreover, the under-representation of women extends beyond career progression to areas such as patent filings and research grants. Globally, women received 37% of research grants in 2022, up from 29% in 2009, while in the U.S., the increase was from around 25% to slightly over 30%. Women also file far fewer patent applications than men, with men appearing on 97% of applications globally and 97% in the U.S., compared to 26% and 28% for women, respectively.

Addressing these issues requires comprehensive strategies, including offering more paid maternity leave, flexible working conditions, and gathering more data on gender disparities. Eldor emphasizes that understanding where interventions are effective and where different approaches are needed is crucial for advancing gender equality in research. Studies have shown that workplace climate, rather than work-life balance, is a significant factor in why women leave academic careers. It is essential to concentrate on establishing a workplace culture that is more inclusive and supportive of women researchers at every career level.

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