Does the Gender Gap Exist in Biological Sciences?

In an analysis of a recent study published in Inside Higher Ed, author Scott Jaschik looks at the gender gap among tenured professors at research universities. According to the study, overall, males are far more likely to become tenured than their female counterparts, irrespective of their research output. Of course, the study claims that there are significant differences in the gender gap depending on the academic discipline. For example:

  • In sociology, women receive tenure 51% less often than men
  • In computer science, women receive tenure 55% less often than men
  • English is an exception to the rule-however, English is a female dominated discipline

Naturally, as a biologist, I wondered if such a gap exists between male and female scientists. My personal experience is that men and women are treated pretty much the same in the life sciences and I have never seen any gender bias or discrimination in all my years in the lab. Nonetheless, this is my personal experience and I wonder what the data shows.

Surfing the net for some data, I came across a blog post by Emma Pierson entitled In Science, It Matters That Women Come Last. While the article is not focused solely on the life sciences, it hits much closer to home than a study done on social scientists. What Emma Pierson found was depressing (in case you couldn’t already tell from the title). According to Emma’s research:

  • While female scientists are often the first author on the papers they write, they tend to publish fewer papers than male scientists and are less to be the final author on the study
  • men author 45% more papers that women
  • women have fewer scientific collaborations than their male counterparts

Interestingly, the article claims that the reason that females are credited on fewer papers is due to the fact that females are less likely to be PIs, (another depressing statistic), who are often credited on many more papers (due to their passive contribution…i.e. they “own” the lab) than non-PI scientists.

The article offers many explanations for these gaps and suggestions regarding how to close them. I suggest that you read the post for further details.

I would love to hear what your experience has been. Especially female scientists. Have you experienced gender discrimination in your career? Is the gender gap an equal opportunity offender in the biological sciences as well?

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