This August 26th marked a historic occasion in the US calendar – 99 years since American women won the right to vote. It also commemorated Women’s Equality Day; an annual opportunity to reflect on just how far women’s rights have progressed in the intervening years. But has the situation really improved? Particularly in the world of research? We’ve drawn on the rich and interlinking data in Dimensions to find out. Here’s what we uncovered about some of the latest research, including who’s writing, funding, and using it.
The impact of gender in research
Zoom in on the research ecosystem, and you don’t have to look far to find publications exploring the challenges women face at all stages of the research cycle.
Most governments and funders now accept the participation of women in clinical trials is crucial to correctly assess the effects of therapeutic drugs. While some researchers believe that progress toward achieving this goal of inclusion is promising,(1) others suggest that inequality in this area is still alive and well.(2)
A study published in The Lancet this year, considered why female researchers receive less research funding than their male peers. The authors found that it has less to do with the quality of the proposed research and far more to do with the “less favorable assessments of women as principal investigators”.(3)
Perhaps that explains why, when it comes to peer review, one study within the discipline ecology found that papers authored by women have lower acceptance rates and are less well cited than papers authored by men in the field.(4)
These findings appear to be borne out by an analysis of 15 prestigious multidisciplinary and neuroscience journals in the MEDLINE database, which found indications that the proportion of female authors in the journals has been consistently low over the past 13 years. As the authors note: “Publication in distinguished journals advances careers, so this under-representation negatively affects the careers of thousands of female scientists.”(5)
And, for many, the challenges women face at scientific conferences remain a cause for concern, with studies suggesting females are often under-represented on panels (6). They are also less likely to participate actively in the event; for example, ask questions.(7) A partial solution may be at hand – increasing the number of women on the conference organizing team has been shown to result in a higher proportion of female speakers.(8)
Interestingly, there is even evidence of bias against publishing research that looks at the topic of gender bias!(9)
Here are a few facts on the wider topic of gender parity that we gleaned from the free version of Dimensions. NOTE: all data for this article were extracted from Dimensions on 08.21.19.
It’s a topic that can stir strong emotions, so it’s not surprising that the search string “gender bias” OR “gender equality” OR “gender inequality” returns 18,705 publications.
Sort these by citations and we can see that among the most cited is the 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” by Moss-Racusin, C.A. et al. 40% of the 899 citations received to date were in past two years, and compared to other publications in the same field, it has received 436 times more citations than average.
It is also the article that has received the most online attention, as shown by its Altmetric score of 5,028. Coverage has been strong across social media, news outlets, and blogs (see fig 1).
Fig 1: Publication metrics for the article “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students”.
Publications by year
The first studies on the topic appeared in the 1970s – perhaps it’s no coincidence that the end of that decade saw the United Nations General Assembly adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Fig 2: Publications per year looking at gender issues, based on Dimensions data.
The annual number of publications has been rising steadily since then, accelerating in pace since 2013. In 2018, it reached 2,218 and 2019 already looks set to overtake that figure, with 1,601 publications to date (see fig 2).
In contrast, while the number of active grants each year is rising again after dipping slightly between 2014 and 2015 (green line in fig 3), the number of new grants awarded in 2018 shows little change from the 2014 total (blue line in fig 3).
Fig 3: Active and new grants related to gender issues awarded each year, based on Dimensions data.
If we look at grants awarded since 2017, Sweden is responsible for 104 of them, followed by the UK (66), the US (55), and Belgium (50). Interestingly, cOAlition S is the largest funding group over that period with 227 grants. cOAlition S is the international consortium of research funders behind Plan S, which requires that scientific publications resulting from research funded by public grants must be published in compliant open access journals or platforms from 2021 onwards.
Of the top five funders over that period, three are UK research councils spanning a range of disciplines; together they are responsible for grants totaling more than 80 million. The other two funders are European organizations.
European Commission (EC) in Belgium – EUR 44.4 M
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK – EUR 33.3 M
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the UK – EUR 27.1 M
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the UK – EUR 26.5 M
European Research Council (ERC) in Belgium – EUR 17.5 M
One of the most recent grants was awarded to the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden by Swedish government agency Vinnova (39,000 euros). Its goal is to explore how the communications around a crisis need to be tailored for a female audience, as to how “crisis situations are handled differs between gender, with significantly more men reporting that they would manage on their own for a week or longer”.
The auto-generated analytical views tab reveals the most published researcher on gender issues is Dr. Emanuela Lombardo, senior lecturer in Political Science at Madrid Complutense University in Spain. 22 of the 56 articles, book chapters and monographs she has listed in Dimensions touch on the theme, many in relation to her native Spain.
Fig 4: Dr. Emanuela Lombardo’s gender-related publications in Dimensions.
Gender issues have also been the focus of 39 clinical trials and nine patents, including one by Adobe Inc. for a model that takes into account gender bias when pricing media campaigns. Gender has also played a role in more than 309 policy documents, the topics of which range from violence against women to greater equality in the music industry.
What’s causing gender inequalities and how can we resolve them?
A number of studies have found that, in some countries at least, one factor driving inequality is language. In lands that use gender distinctions (e.g., for nouns and pronouns), females have lower educational attainment,(10) participate less in the labor force,(11) and it even impacts their representation in politics.(12)
In the case of women in research, for the authors of a 2019 article published in Translational Psychiatry, the “neglect of female subjects in basic research may stem from a hard-wired sex/gender bias, which may also be reflected in a similar attitude toward female scientists.”(13)
Perhaps there are lessons that can be learned from the world of business… Although gender stereotypes are hindering women seeking power positions,(14) at least one study has found that increasing the number of women on boards is positively related to higher financial performance, resulting in “valid business as well as ethical arguments to support mandatory gender legislation”.(15)
For the authors of the 2019 Trends in Ecology & Evolution article, “What Is Gender Equality in Science?”, the first step toward achieving equality for women in STEM is to define what that is. They have developed eight definitions that look at areas such as pay, leadership, performance assessment, and even domestic labor (if it’s shared equally by men and women, they have an equal opportunity to focus on work).
Dimensions’ wide range of content allows you to gain new insights into your chosen topic. Feel free to reach out to the Dimensions team to learn more about the content scope and coverage and see how Dimensions can help you find the most relevant results faster.