Male : female ratios on scientific websites, conferences and journal editorial boards

My young children (girl + boy) are interested in science, thankfully, heavily influenced by us as parent scientists and the museums and the scientists that they get to meet. But it has caused me to consider what the situation will be like in future for my daughter. What if? What if she continues with science and I think there is a strong bias towards chemistry and biology. What next? What if she is able to go into academia, what are the prospects? We are surrounded by science that is online (products, journals and news) and I started to notice what has probably been flagged many times before. Just looking at websites and images, the way we portray scientists is just plane biased – its basically white and male. What impact does that have on encouraging girls and minorities to get into STEM? Does it have some influence. I spend all day at my computer am I influenced too?

In the last 24 hrs I happened to look at one website F1000 which has very useful open access journal  and analysis of science literature products and was struck by the predominantly old and male photographs of scientists. The ratio was 4:1 in favor of males with large photos and 2:1 for smaller headshots. I reached out to my contact there to point this out and I hope they take my observation in the way it was intended.

Then I received an email for a EuroQSAR conference in Europe next year. I glanced at the confirmed speaker list and it was 5 out of 18 were female as far as I could tell. This reminded me of a QSAR Gordon conference in 1999 which was probably 90% male and 4 out of 21 speakers were female.

I wondered whether this ratio is the same at top journals. So the low hanging fruit is Science, I looked at the senior editorial board of 5 scientists 4:1 in favor of males. The massive board of reviewing editors also looks heavily weighted towards males as far as I could tell. How much deeper do you want to dig ?

I submit these are just a few examples, and I am still processing the implications. I am a male scientist over the age of 40.  I have contributed to conferences (many predominantly male speakers) and I am on journal editorial boards e.g. Pharmaceutical Research (4 out of 13 are female) and Drug Discovery Today (6 out of 50 are female). I think we can have some say in transforming the ratio and increasing the diversity of scientists. We have addressed the growth in submissions of manuscripts from Asia by adding editors from this region, why not re-balance our website images, editorial boards and meetings to ensure that we have more diversity overall.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, but if our daughters are to have more opportunity in science in the future I think we need to start addressing it now. I just cannot believe that the way scientists are portrayed on websites, how they are represented on editorial boards and in conferences is accurate, predominantly male. This must have a negative influence on young female students. It may be uncomfortable to have to deal with this. But we have to start.


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