A recent report on gender representation in the global research workforce by information analytics company Elsevier showed that participation by women is increasing but some gender gaps still exist. Authors of the report, Gender in the Global Research Landscape, used a variety of metrics to compare the participation of women between 1996-2000 and 2011-2015. The report was released at an event in Washington, DC on March 31.
Authors of the report determined gender representation by looking at authors within the Scopus database of scholarly journal articles and using a gender disambiguation algorithm to predict the gender of each author. However, the algorithm was unable to predict the genders of names from Asian or African countries with satisfactory probability. Therefore, the report does not include data from any African countries and only includes data from Japan for the Asian continent. Attendees of the Washington, DC event were concerned about the exclusion of US researchers of Asian or African descent, especially since Asians make up a large share of the US research workforce. Because Elsevier does not collect data related to race or ethnicity, researchers could not address this issue but emphasized that the algorithm did predict the genders of 80% of US researchers.
The major finding of the report was that representation of women in research increased by many metrics. There was greater overall representation of women in all countries and regions analyzed. According to Elsevier researchers, gender balance is achieved when women comprise 40-60% of any group. By this standard, all countries and regions included in this study reached, surpassed, or were within a few percentage points of gender balance, with the exception of Japan. Women also submitted more patent applications and received a greater share of patents in the later time period than the earlier period.
There were still areas where representation of women lagged. During 2011-2015, women were highly represented in social and life sciences but poorly represented in physical sciences and engineering. Women were less likely to collaborate internationally or across academic and corporate sectors and were less internationally mobile. Men also published more than women, but there was little difference between the scholarly impact of men and women researchers. However, women were more likely to be involved in interdisciplinary research, and interdisciplinary research had lower scholarly impact.
Authors of the report studied representation of women in leadership roles in engineering and nursing by looking at the gender of the first and corresponding authors, positions usually reserved for those holding primary or senior roles on research teams. The share of women in engineering and nursing leadership generally reflected overall gender representation in these fields. However, by the 40-60% rule of gender balance, gender balance in engineering leadership was reached in all countries and regions analyzed except France and Japan. In other words, women senior authors in engineering actually exceeded their overall representation. However, data presented by Dr. Cassidy R. Sugimoto at the release and a study cited in the report showed that women tend to more involved in performing experiments while men are in more senior positions, or as Dr. Sugimoto put it, “Women are the hands of science, while men are asking the questions.”
Authors of the report also analyzed gender representation by disciple based on journals in which authors published. Dentistry had a small share of the research workforce, but the share of women involved in dentistry was similar in most countries and regions examined in 2011-2015, with participation of women between 30-40%. Brazil had the highest representation of women at 55%, and Japan had the lowest at 26%. In the US, women comprised 36% of the dental research workforce over this time period.
Portugal was a particularly bright spot in the report. During 2011-2015, women comprised 49% of Portugal’s research workforce. Portugal had the highest level of women represented in 20 of 27 disciplines. Women were highly represented in areas where their representation is typically low. The report highlights intentional policy moves aimed at achieving gender balance in Portugal, demonstrating that gender balance does not happen by accident and that policies can expedite progress.
The overarching conclusion of the report was that gender representation is improving by many measures, but there is still work to do. While many countries have cleared the first hurdle of balanced gender representation, there are still gains to be made in leadership and collaboration and understanding the policies and social and cultural dynamics that hinder gender progress in those areas. Many event attendees also wondered about representation at the intersection of gender and race, a possible subject for future studies.
Elsevier will hold similar release events on gender and research in Brussels, Belgium on May 12, Tokyo, Japan on May 25-26, and Montreal on November 6-8, 2017.
Find the report, presentations from the March 31 Washington, DC release, and future events here: