Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Important new paper on impact of having women as conveners on gender ratio of speakers

There is an important new paper from Arturo Casadevall and  Jo Handelsman: mBiosphere: Scientific meetings: convening committees with at least one woman boost numbers of women speakers. It was published January 7, 2014 in the open access journal mBio. 

Their abstract
We investigated the hypothesis that the gender of conveners at scientific meetings influenced the gender distribution of invited speakers. Analysis of 460 symposia involving 1,845 speakers in two large meetings sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology revealed that having at least one woman member of the convening team correlated with a significantly higher proportion of invited female speakers and reduced the likelihood of an all-male symposium roster. Our results suggest that inclusion of more women as conveners may increase the proportion of women among invited speakers at scientific meetings. 
IMPORTANCE The proportion of women entering scientific careers has increased substantially, but women remain underrepresented in academic ranks. Participation in meetings as a speaker is a factor of great importance for academic advancement. We found that having a woman as a convener greatly increased women’s participation in symposia, suggesting that one mechanism for achieving gender balance at scientific meetings is to involve more women as conveners.
Basically they conclude that having women serve as conveners for sessions and meetings increases the chance that women will be well represented as speakers.

Much of their key findings are shown in Figure 1

From their paper: FIG 1 Proportion of women speakers as a function of convener gender composition for the years 2011, 2012, and 2013 at the GM and ICAAC meeting. All comparisons were significant at P < 0.05 by Student’s t test

What to do about this? They have some suggestions at the end of the paper
Whatever the mechanism driving the results, practical actions are suggested by the data. The results suggest that an experiment in which at least one woman is included in every team of conveners might increase the proportional representation of women among the speakers at ASM meetings. An alternative might be to explicitly charge conveners with finding speakers who reflect the diversity of microbiologists. These strategies are worth testing. In the process, we might find that our meetings draw on a fuller arc of talent in microbiology and are enriched by increased gender balance. 
This study suggests a simple mechanism for increasing women’s participation in a critical part of a scientific life. Further research should determine whether discriminatory behaviors contribute to the outcomes and whether the outcomes contribute to the loss of women from academic science.
Some press for this article
Some other things I have written about gender ratio in meetings:

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