Despite efforts to recruit more women in the sciences, a stark gender disparity still exists. Not only does this issue prevent academic centers from retaining a talented and diverse population that could help them enhance their mission, it hinders women from carrying out their full potential.
37 years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Women in Science and Technology Opportunity Act, which “declares it the policy of the United States that men and women have equal opportunity in education, training and employment in scientific and technical fields.” Although major advances have been made to achieve this goal, academic institutions are still not fully using this talented population to enhance their mission.
A 2012 study published by Moss-Racusin and collegues at Yale attempted to experimentally demonstrate whether there exists a gender bias against female students in academic medicine. By giving science faculty from academic centers application materials of a student applying for a laboratory manager position that was randomly assigned a male or female name, they discovered that male applicants were rated significantly more competent and were offered a higher baseline salary and more career mentoring than female applicants.
Within the field of medicine, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a document summarizing the proportion of women that apply for medical school or comprise the faculty within academic centers. They concluded that although the number of women applying to medical school has increased, their proportion within the applicant pool has dropped to 46%. Within academic medical centers, women are underrepresented within the faculty (38%), with 15% and 16% of them serving as chairs and deans.
While further research is needed to explore why women are not entering medicine or pursuing scientific careers at higher rates with a focus on independent career decision-making, the existence of a gender disparity within the sciences is apparent. This disparity is particularly damaging to society as it deprives academic centers the opportunity to attract more talented individuals that could advance their mission.
Within the past decade, a number of organizations have provided some suggestions to raise awareness of this crisis and increase the participation of women in the sciences. For instance, in a 2005 article published in Science, Handelsman and colleagues suggested that introducing more thoughtful advisers and programs that encourage women to pursue academic careers not only could provide women access to role models but also may inspire them to have more self-confidence. In addition, the AAMC advises readers to sponsor and use standard processes that reduce bias before and during interviewing candidates for admission and academic appointments.
Although these career-advising programs and mentors exist for women, they are not sufficient. We invite you to join us in this important endeavor. Gender disparity has no place in academic scientific careers. Girls and women deserve a future where they can achieve their full potential without facing discrimination from others. If you want change, you can start creating it by sharing these statistics with others as soon as possible – and by raising your voice against gender discrimination every day, everywhere.
Cover photo credit: Smithsonian/Flickr