Gender equality in biological sciences
Sue Horton, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and lead author of the study, has been a leader in the fight to increase the number of women in scientific fields, especially in the biomedical sciences.
“I want to be clear that this isn’t an anti-male statement. Women make excellent scientists, just as men make excellent scientists,” Horton said. “We’re just trying to get more women into science.”
“When we look at the diversity of scientists and of women, it’s not nearly as good as we would like,” Horton said. “But this isn’t a reason to make excuses. The gender gap in science is a serious problem, and we need to do something about it.”
While women make up a little over 50 percent of science majors, their percentage in graduate school is just 20 percent. The number of women pursuing advanced degrees in science and engineering is lower than men’s, according to the National Science Foundation.
The problem of underrepresentation of women in science is a concern for scientists and the public alike. Some schools have programs designed to help women with career decisions, and gender bias is also part of the reason that women are less likely to get tenure-track positions in science and engineering, according to Horton.
“In our study, we found that women who are really committed to science and who are in the upper half of the range of performance tend to get more support than women who are lower performers,” Horton said. “That’s a really important thing to know.”
Horton said she was particularly pleased that the research showed that not only do women get more support from their schools, but that they are also willing to work harder to get the support they need.
“The real story here is not that women don’t want to do science, but they have the drive and the skills to get into the field,” she said. “They just need the right support.”
In the report, Horton examined how students at five colleges responded to different gender stereotypes and to research that suggested that men and women with similar backgrounds may be judged differently. The study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, used surveys of about 1,200 students at four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.
The results suggest that even though women are likely to perform better than men in their career choices, they may not have the same advantages when it comes to promotion and advancement, according to the report. The findings also suggest that women may be underrepresented in scientific and engineering fields in which they are underrepresented, and that even when women do get to a senior level in science and engineering, they are less likely to have their gender “neutralized” by gender stereotypes.