By Maisie Northing and Aastha Subedi
Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science from AuthorAID! Maisie, INASP programme assistant, and Aastha, AuthorAID community administrator, discuss and highlight issues in the research landscape currently facing women and girls, and present AuthorAID community responses to a short survey we posed about supporting women and girls in science.
At the end of 2015, resolution 70/212 was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly officially proclaiming the 11th of February to be celebrated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science every year, with 2016 being the first official year. With more than 65 countries sponsoring, and all member states approving the resolution, this is a clear signal that the world is progressing towards sustainability in science, through striving to achieve gender parity in educational access and participation in scientific research. While there is still much work to be done to enhance the access and involvement of women in STEM, the conversations and initiatives that arise from the global collaboration in recognising the day contribute to laying the groundwork for advancement towards gender equality.
Women in Science Today
Achieving gender equity in science is critically important, not only for women to lead fulfilling lives with opportunities equal to men, but for global challenges to be solved, be they health-related, or those caused by climate change. With 2030 fast approaching – the year the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be reached – we are all at a disadvantage if approximately half of the world’s population are excluded, or their ambitions curtailed, from engaging in and producing important scientific research.
While the fight for gender equality has long been ongoing, disparities stubbornly persist. Specific to scientific research, the following statistics from the United Nations webpage for the day highlight the current situation, and considering the above, underscore the urgent need for gender parity:
- “Despite a shortage of skills in most of the technological fields driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, women still account for only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of graduates in computer science and informatics.”
- “Female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals, and they are often passed over for promotion.”
- “Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of national science academies are women.”
- “In cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence, only one in five professionals (22%) is a woman.”
Women occupy only 12% of the membership of national science academies, “the upper levels of scientific hierarchies,” making the theme of 2024’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science is ‘Women and Girls in Science Leadership: A New Year of Sustainability’ even more pertinent.
It is vital that both women and men contribute to ushering in a new era of sustainability. Diversity in research ensures a multitude of perspectives; the wider the talent pool, the more creative and considered solutions to global challenges will be. As we have previously published, “In an increasingly data-driven world, it is imperative that women’s voices and perspectives are also represented in emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence, to ensure that new data-driven technologies are responsive to the needs of both women and men and that in-built biases do not perpetuate existing gender inequalities and stereotypes” (Skovgaard et al., 2023a, p.13).
AuthorAID and Women in Science
AuthorAID is INASP’s flagship project. At INASP, we are committed to applying a gender equity lens to the work we do to support early career researchers and to address the inequities that this reveals (Skovgaard et al., 2023a). You can read more about what we do here.
In 2021, we carried out a large survey of the AuthorAID community, with 7,972 individuals participating, from 141 countries. From our Voices of Early Career Researchers report on the survey results, the responses showed that women placed great emphasis on reaching more people with their research. This suggests that women often, or would like to, design their research to be of benefit to large swathes of the public. This bodes positively for the global population if more women and girls are able to access and thrive in research careers.
The survey uncovered that women are less likely than men to have published in the last year, particularly in 'international' journals. Additionally, women have been involved in collaborative research less frequently. They are also more than twice as likely as men to believe that unequal opportunities exist for women in research. Furthermore, women often cite 'lack of time and resources' as significant obstacles to collaborative research and feel that their expertise and contributions are less recognized in such settings.
The survey findings further show that women in research often encounter various challenges, including constraints in their work and frustrations as early career researchers. They are 2.5 times more likely to face gender-related discrimination in the workplace and tend to feel that they receive less recognition and reward for their work within their institutions. Furthermore, men are more likely than women to express positivity about the organisational culture at their workplace. These findings highlight the gender disparity that exists in science for women and underscore the need for systemic and societal reforms. To find out more, we encourage you to read the full report by Skovgaard et al., (2023a), here.
At the end of 2023, INASP produced a publication entitled ‘Gender responsive pedagogy in online learning: a framework and guidance for designers and facilitators’. The framework and accompanying guidance aims to cement the consideration of both women and men learners’ needs when designing and facilitating online learning. This is important for a myriad of reasons. Gender responsive online learning can present flexible educational and professional opportunities for access and progression for both women and men. Appropriately for the context of women and girls in science, “studies have found that in many countries, women and girls have identified pedagogical practices as a major impediment to their attendance, participation, retention and progress in higher education - particularly in STEM courses where lecturers may show gender bias in their statements and outright favouring of their men students” (Skovgaard et al., 2023b, p.5)
Our Recent Events to Continue the Discourse on Gender Equality in Science
In December last year, we held a webinar entitled “Voices of women researchers: how can we create a more equitable career path?”. You can view the recording here. INASP associate Flora Fabian, AuthorAID steward Jackeline Elgar, and Sarah Nabachwa, Uganda Gender Equity in Research Alliance (GERA) regional coordinator, presented a powerful webinar for early-career researchers from the Global South. The focus of the discussion was on creating a more equitable career path for women researchers with the assistance of various stakeholders, irrespective of their intersectional identities. This involved drawing from the speakers’ invaluable experiences and insights in their scientific fields.
Aligned with the 9th International Day of Women and Girls in Science Assembly held on February 8th and 9th, 2024, at the UN Headquarters in New York, AuthorAID organised its monthly event, "Tea Time with AuthorAID," on February 9th. During this gathering, scholars from the Global South shared insights aimed at empowering early-career women researchers to break barriers, inspire and support each other, and achieve intersectional gender equality to forge the women and girls leadership in the field of STEM. You can watch the recording here.
AuthorAID Community Responses
In anticipation of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we wanted to gauge the AuthorAID community’s engagement with, and opinions on, supporting women and girls in science and research. We felt this was important as we all work together to contribute to the achievement of gender equality in STEM. We produced a short survey, asking two questions: in what ways have you contributed to supporting women in science and research? and what can be done to better support women and girls in the scholarly community?
We have produced two word clouds to show themes that emerged from the responses. A selection of full quotes from members’ responses are also below.
Mentorship and scholarships prove to be popular avenues for supporting women and girls in both word clouds; we know that women often struggle to find mentors, and fewer women than men become mentors, narrowing the pool of available suitable mentors for women and girls (Cross et al., 2019). Women often prefer a woman over a man as a mentor, and place a greater value on mentoring than men do (Cross et al., 2019). From our experience with the AuthorAID platform, fewer women than men are mentors, fewer women than men approach mentors, and women mentors receive more requests relative to their number. Mentoring has many benefits that can be critical for women’s careers, aiding career and personal development, as well as academic skills, and a mentoring relationship can also offer psychosocial support (Cross et al., 2019).
AuthorAID offers a versatile platform for scholars to both seek mentorship and become mentors, facilitating progress in their scholarly journeys. Many members of the AuthorAID community have benefited from mentorship in writing and research, and it's inspiring to witness numerous members now serving as mentors for women in the early stages of their careers. We would encourage anybody who has not yet signed up to be a mentor on the AuthorAID platform, who fulfil the AuthorAID mentoring criteria, to do so here. Likewise, if you're in need of mentorship to navigate the complexities of your scholarly journey, you can find support here.
In what ways have you contributed to supporting women in science and research?
It is great to see that many in the AuthorAID community are already involved in mentoring early career women researchers. Mentorship was the highest frequency activity detailed by the respondents. Participating in, and establishing, women’s networks and organisations either in an institution or a field were also popular answers. Support and solidarity, in what can effectively be peer-mentoring in such groups, can have positive impacts for women as they navigate their studies or research. It is also fantastic that many members are involved in advocating for gender sensitive policies and speaking out against bias and discrimination. We should all strive to create positive environments for women and men, and advocate for, and ensure, the recognition of both women and men’s efforts in research.
Here is a selection of full quotes from the survey as to what AuthorAID members do to support women and girls in science and research:
“Advocating for gender sensitive policies. Actively speaking about discrimination in academia supported by data and studies. Applying to mentorship programs (British Council) to prepare and inform myself more as a scientific mentor of women.” Woman, Mexico
“Over five years, I have been part of the mentoring network of the New York Academy of Sciences, where I mentor young girls in STEM at junior school and 1000girls 1000futures programs. I am also a proud mentor of a former weak female student who became stronger to finish with first class in my department. I also mentor secondary school girls in my community to prepare them ahead of their roles in society.” Woman, Nigeria
“I have made many presentations in several International Forums on Gender Gap in Education and Employment in Nepal.” Woman, Nepal
What can be done to better support women and girls in the scholarly community?
As previously mentioned, mentorship and scholarships were frequently cited as ideas from AuthorAID members as important ways in which more women and girls could be supported. We can also see that more holistic ways have been posited, for example “enabling environment”; “capacity strengthening”; “empowerment”; and “recognise” — oftentimes women and girls will face invisible barriers to their success, through gender bias and patriarchal social norms. The 2023 Gender Social Norms Index found that close to 50% of the global population think that women do not make as good political leaders as men do, and that almost 9 out of 10 men and women harbour biases against women.
Policy advocacy, creating women’s groups, accessibility, and intersectionality are also all pertinent and thought-provoking responses. Intersectionality means considering how different characteristics of a person, like gender, race, class, and disability, intersect to influence their life experience, opportunities, and how they are treated by others (read this article and interview about intersectionality with Kimberlé Crenshaw, who first coined the term 35 years ago).
Here is a selection of full quotes from the survey as what AuthorAID members think could be done to better support women and girls in science and research:
“More studies demonstrating and revealing the gap between genders in growth, in salaries and advantages they historically have had. Identifying intersectionalities and allowing the most vulnerable women have some advantages over men (such as in publishing, access to grants, being represented in public academic spaces -a.i.e. congresses and symposia).” Woman, Mexico
“Provide mentors at a higher level in their career that can support young female, advocating for policies that can provide more means, opportunities and opening to women while being caretakers for their families.” Woman, Cameroon
“Financial support for women to attend workshops, seminars and conferences. Enlightenment programmes. Identifying, training and retraining girls with scholarly research potentials.” Woman, Nigeria
We also had some great responses from men too, who are acting as mentors for women and believe in educating the wider community on these issues.
AuthorAID believes in championing and uplifting women in the field of science which creates an opportunity to cultivate an intersectional, inclusive, and equitable scientific community that fully embraces the contributions of all individuals. We are showcasing some of our wonderful and inspirational AuthorAID stewards and members for a mini-blog series across the whole of this week. Each day we will release a different interview about their experiences as a woman and their thoughts on striding towards gender equality in science and research, so stay tuned!
* "My colleague in the photo are Hellen Siril, Amanda Kimonge, Happiness Koda, and Jacqueline Mosha. The photo was taken by Ali Kaduma.”
Cross, M., Lee, S., Bridgman, H., Thapa, D. K., Cleary, M., and Kornhaber, R. (2019). Benefits, Barriers and Enablers of Mentoring Female Health Academics: An Integrative Review. PLoS One. 14 (4). Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0215319 [Accessed 12/02/2024].
Skovgaard, M., Dooley, G., Bhandari, B., Buchner, T., and Harle, J. (2023a). An Equitable Knowledge Ecosystem Must Include the Voices of Women and Men. INASP. Available from: https://www.inasp.info/publications/voecrs-2023-gender [Accessed 12/02/2024].
Skovgaard, M., Wild, J., Fabian, F., and Munene, A. (2023b). Gender Responsive Pedagogy in Online Learning: A Framework and Guidance for Designers and Facilitators. INASP. Available from: https://www.inasp.info/publications/gender-responsive-pedagogy-online [Accessed 12/02/2024].