Gender equity in academic science may seem like a pipe dream, with the percentage of scientific leadership positions held by women in institutions a mere 5-20%
However, new data from science societies – the professional associations that bring researchers of a particular speciality together – tell a different story.
Published today, research from my colleagues and I shows that globally, women make up about 33% of zoological society boards, and about 25% of executive positions (presidents, vice presidents, treasurers and secretaries).
While still short of equality, this represents a trend in the right direction. And we can take some lessons from some of the finer points of our analysis to address gender equity in science leadership more broadly.
To that end, we’ve created a Gender Equality Checklist for scientists to apply in their own professional operations. A few easy examples:
outline a mission statement in your constitution or on your website regarding inclusion, diversity and/or anti-discrimination have written and enforceable grievance policies and procedures for harassment commit to blind objective reviewing for conference papers, grants, scholarships and awards. Visible statements of diversity matter Scientific societies are organisations with a goal of advancing scientific knowledge through grants, conferences, and journal publications. They also help to unite geographically distant researchers within a field, and provide mentors or role models for early-career academics. Perhaps most importantly, societies provide opportunities for networking, both formally and informally.
Using quantitative models, we tried to pinpoint potential predictors of gender ratios across more than 200 societies in the field of zoology. We found that older, larger societies were more male-biased.
But we also saw one of the most important factors in predicting whether women held leadership positions in a society was simply a visible statement of diversity, inclusivity or anti-discrimination.
While it may make intuitive sense that a society that states its valuation of equality does have a more balanced representation of men and women, it’s nice to see this idea supported by empirical data.
It is important to note here that we can’t make assumptions about the nature of this correlation. In other words, we can’t distinguish causation: does having more women leaders lead to producing a diversity statement, or does having a diversity statement encourage a higher number of female board members?
Regardless, our finding that the number of female executives can be predicted by the number of female board members shows that each affirmative action is likely to be additive, all accumulating towards the end goal of equality. Our evidence suggests that values expressed by a society often reflect – or influence – its membership.
Interestingly, our study also revealed that the geographic location of a society’s headquarters also affected female leadership. Australasia had the highest percentage of female board members and executives (around 43%), followed closely by North America (38-42%) while Asia lagged behind all other continents at 18-22%.