Gender Gap in Science

Last year Maryam Mirzakhani, a Professor at Stanford University who was born and raised in Iran, was the first woman mathematician to be awarded with a Fields Medal (a mathematician’s “Nobel Prize”), along with three other laureates: Martin Hairer (Austrian, based in the UK), Manjul Bhargava (Canadian-American, Princeton University), Artur Avila (Brazilian-French, Paris). Their names alone show how incredibly diverse and international science is today.

And yet, in every country of the world, considerable gender gaps remain in practically every scientific field.

Our Analysis and Sources

Scientific journals and databases constitute a framework for scientists to publish their work, share knowledge and establish precedence for their discoveries. However complex the discovery, a scientific publication is a simple text document with: the name(s) of the author(s), an abstract, a body and a list of citations (references to other scientific papers).With the explosion of volume of publications in recent years and the development of large electronic collections of scientific publications, it has become possible to analyze the data statistically (how many times a scientific journal or a particular article is cited…). Bibliometrics is now considered as a tool for science policy providing indicators to measure productivity and scientific quality, thereby supplying a basis for evaluating and orienting R&D. It is also a potential tool for evaluation. There is no gender information about the author of the article or the authors cited, but it is possible to infer the likely gender from scientist names. This is the approach that was taken to produce this prior research, published in journal Nature.

To estimate the overall gender gap in science, we inferred the likely gender of about 1,000,000 scientists referenced in and thousands of the world’s most renowned researchers mentioned in

ORCID is a community-driven registry of researchers, with a Board of Directors including members from MIT, Thomson Reuters, Elsevier, CERN and other important organizations. Its aim is to solve the author and contributor name ambiguity problem in scholarly publications: homonyms, name variants, typos, transliterations, use of initials vs. full scientist name… ORCID provides an API and releases a data dump every year for data mining purposes.

HighlyCited is a web site listing researchers who earned the distinction by writing the greatest numbers of reports officially designated by Thomson Reuters’ Essential Science Indicators as Highly Cited Papers — ranking among the top 1% most cited for their subject field and year of publication. The ratio of women in HighlyCited is a matter of initial demographics (ratio of women studying in a given discipline, evolution over time) and recognition of talent by the scientific community. But as in many professions, other social factors may play a part: attrition rate among women pursuing a scientific career, unconscious gender biases in the way scientists themselves accept a paper for publication or make citations, differences in career paths or grants allocations…

Our Findings – Highlights

Those are some of our main findings. Starting from a theoretical ratio of 50% female and 50% male world inhabitants, we estimate that:

  • Among one million scientists in, 33% are women.
  • In 2001 women scientists were 7% of all researchers mentioned in HighlyCited; the number grew to 13% in 2014.
  • The gender gap in HighlyCited researchers is narrower for social sciences (31% women in 2014) compared to computer science (9% women in 2014).
  • In some fields the gender gap is closing fast: HighlyCited women engineers were 11% in 2014, up from 1% in 2001; same for mathematics 11% in 2014, up from 4% in 2001.
  • In other fields the gender gap is not closing (example: HighlyCited female researchers in Physics were 4% in 2014, compared to 5% in 2001).

We have asked researchers and scientists to comment on those results.

Kaisa Snellman, Professor at INSEAD, said:

“I was positively surprised to see that the gender gap in science has narrowed over the past decade. I find it especially encouraging that the share of women among “highly cited” researchers has almost doubled since 2001. At the same time, when I look around in the hallway, most of my tenured colleagues are male. Across universities, women are more likely to get stuck in lecturer and instructor positions that are often part-time and provide no access to tenure track. Of course, the pay is much lower in these adjunct positions – not to talk about job security. Hopefully the narrowing gender gap among highly cited researchers means that in the future we will see more female professors climbing up the career ladder at the same pace as the male scientists.”

Prominent male scientists promote the idea that science is not just for men. In France, Cédric Villani, mathematician who was awarded a Fields Medal in 2010, participated to a discussion with Zena M. (@ScienceFilles) and said,

“I think I generally had more girls than boys in my class until I specialized in Mathematics, then the ratio dropped abruptly. When I studied at ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) in 1992, I was in class with four female students out of forty. But in 1994, there were either six or seven girls studying mathematics at ENS! A record year, which brought to academics some of our best current mathematicians in France: Laure Saint-Raymond, Nalini Anantharaman, Sylvia Serfati*”.

Commenting on “highly cited” statistics, Cédric Villani said:

“I am not surprised by the wide gap overall, but I am astonished by the progress in Mathematics – as it is stronger than I would have expected. In France, the ratio of women accessing senior positions is no longer progressing ­– even tends to decrease because of demographics. I’d like to see a breakdown of the figures per country. I’d also like to see if the trend in “highly cited” can be observed in scientific careers too (Associate Professor vs. Full Professor vs. University management position). Last, I can’t think why the trend should be so different in Mathematics and in Physics… it would be interesting to dig further.

* Laure Saint-Raymond received the Irène Joliot Curie 2011 « Young female scientist » prize;Nalini Anantharaman, Sylvia Serfati were both awarded with the Prix Henri Poincaré 2012.

Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, FREng, a HighlyCited Researcher in Materials Science and Director of Center for Nanofibers and Nanotechnology at the National University of Singapore. Thomson Reuters identified among the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

“It is heartening to see that the gender gap is closing since the beginning of 21st Century. The gender gap is closing even faster in my own domain of research interest. The HighlyCited women engineers were 11% in 2014, up from 1% in 2001. Over the past two decades I have been attending several conferences around the world. Clearly more needs to be done to enhance the opportunities and to further close the gender gap. On average most nations do not invest enough in scientific research. Nations are advised to ramp up their R&D investments from the current level of less one percent of GDP to three percent of GDP, and in the process enhance the proportion of women researchers so as to enable rapid transformation and progress of respective societies. I commend the efforts of ORCID organization for analyzing a million scientists in various fields from around the world and estimating the gender gap in Science. More such analysis and forecasting of trends is desirable.”

“ORCID does not collect gender information, and it is exciting to see the name-based gender parsing algorithm applied to our public data file. This could be a very useful combination of tools and data to be able to track gender balance in the research community.”

– Laurel L. Haak, PhD, Executive Director, ORCID

Elaine Filadelfo (Twitter Data), said:

“Those working in STEM fields have the potential to radically change the lives of many people around the world. Not having adequate gender participation in those fields can hinder the ability of these fields to adequately reach 50% of our population — whether through developing medical treatments for women’s health issues or the development of public infrastructure that better serves families or technology designed with a diverse user-base in mind. Through research into the gender gap, we can work to diagnose and treat the issues preventing women’s equal representation.”

About Gender Gap Grader

How It Works

We used NamSor API to infer the gender of scientists’ names, recognizing that Andrea Rossini is likely male, whereas Andrea Parker is likely female. The software is highly accurate for all international names, including names of Africa, India… and it recognizes also that the gender of Chinese and Korean names cannot be determined. The error rate on gender gap estimates is typically less than one percent.

Our Mission

#GenderDataRevolution, empowering companies and organizations with innovative tools to measure the gender gap.

We believe APIs can be a powerful tool for social change. At a recent Data2X conference organized by the United Nations, Hillary Clinton declared, “Data not only measures progress, it inspires it.”

This is precisely our vision: we have created an API that can measure the gender gap by analyzing open data or the ‘big data’. From the world of angel investing, to filmmaking and commercial aviation, we have published studies that illustrate how much of a gender gap exists in each sector… all around the world.

Anyone can use the API to produce valuable open data. You can measure the gender gap where it matters to YOU (your company, your city …).

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