The Fate of Female STEM Researchers

Women represent 70 per cent of our healthcare workers. They have been shielding us from the onslaught of the Pandemic upfront. Yet, women are the one bearing the brunt of school closures, working from home, indicating a sharp rise in gender inequalities over the past year.


11 February is celebrated as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We took this opportunity to analyse some of the International findings on women in STEM.


UNESCO: Women Scientist Still Face Gender Bias

In a recent report, UNESCO revealed that women account for only one-third of the world’s researchers and hold fewer senior positions than men at top universities, resulting in “a lower publication rate, less visibility, less recognition and, critically, less funding”.

UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay observed that “even today, in the 21st century, women and girls are being sidelined in science-related fields due to their gender”.

As the impact of AI on societal priorities continues to grow, the underrepresentation of women’s contribution to research and development means that their needs and perspectives are likely to be overlooked in the design of products that impact our daily lives, such as smartphone applications.

“Women need to know that they have a place in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and that they have a right to share in scientific progress”, said Ms. Azoulay.

© UNICEF/Omid FazelA girl in Afghanistan shows a robot she has built at an exhibition in Kabul.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “Advancing gender equality in science and technology is essential for building a better future.” Adding further, “We have seen this yet again in the fight against COVID-19”.


The UN chief underscored the need to recognize that “greater diversity fosters greater innovation”.


The Fate of Female Researchers

Globally, women have achieved numerical parity (45–55%) at the bachelor’s and master’s levels of study and are on the cusp at PhD level (44%), according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

The gender gap widens as women progress in their academic careers, with lower participation at each successive rung of the ladder from doctoral student to assistant professor to director of research or full professor.

Overall, female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers. Their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals and they are often passed over for promotion. Women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues and, while they represent 33.3% of all researchers, only 12% of members of national science academies are women.

Also read: STOP gender discrimination in academia


Experience of female scientists around the world

Sciencemag.org asked female scientists from around the world to reflect on their experiences and offer their advice. We have listed some of the responses. You can read the full article here.


Young women often second-guess themselves, particularly when faced with conflicting advice from respected mentors. It’s important to keep in mind that what is best for your mentors is not always best for you. Trust your gut. It’s easy to doubt your intuition if you continually run into obstacles, and obstacles might pop up more for women than for men. But willingly taking a step back and being introspective about what you want and need—asking yourself, “What is best for me?”—is critical. If you train yourself to do this, you can become more confident in the path you are taking, in facing the obstacles you will very likely have to face as a minority in science and in advocating for yourself. Elizabeth Nance, assistant professor in chemical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle


As a woman, it is often really hard for me to feel like I matter in science. Conferences are often full of mostly white men, and I can go to entire sessions where no women are on a panel. I’ve been sexually harassed at professional conferences and by colleagues. It’s really easy to think that you should leave your field—why should I put up with this constant sexism? I’ve tried to combat this by going to workshops on how to get over impostor syndrome. (The fact that these workshops exist at all, and that they are filled to capacity, is a testament to how pervasive this feeling is.) There will likely come a time when, as a woman graduate student, you will need to stand up for yourself and your friends. Be prepared for it and know how to shut down sexism and racism and any other discrimination. You don’t have to wait for it to happen to you before you learn how to respond. Alyssa Frederick, doctoral candidate in physiology at the University of California, Irvine


My experience as a woman in science has been wonderful these past few years, as the more I have developed my career, the more I have become a role model for students in my country. Today, my research group equally attracts male and female researchers. In class, I love telling my students, “If I have done it, you can do it too” and seeing their eyes light up. They go from questioning whether they can be successful to asking questions about how they can be successful. Especially for women, who even at a young age can internalize impostor syndrome, this is a big step forward. I also love challenging stereotypes whenever I stumble upon them. When asked whether I am a postdoc or a Ph.D. student, which often happens, I really enjoy asking people why they assume that young women cannot be full professors and seeing them panic as they try to cover up their prejudices. Bilge Demirkoz, a professor in high energy physics at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey


Women in STEM have trekked a strenuous path to reach where they are today, a lot has been done and a lot is yet to be done. In a hope that the tides will change, the work will be celebrated and recognised and we would no longer write on the need for gender parity, we wish everyone a very International day of women and girls in Science.


Related Article: STOP gender discrimination in academia


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