Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Women in science: a minor majority
We have recently done a 'population survey' here at the Research Park where I work (PRBB), and I have to say that the results are quite striking. As I wrote in my previous entry, there is a surprisingly large percentage of foreign people here, which is not very common in Spanish institutes. We feel specially proud that some of these foreign people (as well as some Spanish people who came from abroad) are coming from renowned places such as the EMBL, the Max Planck Insitute, Harvard Medical School, the IMT in Marburg, the Salk Institute in San Diego or the Albert Einstein University in NY.
But the pride I feel seeing this great mixture of nationalities contrasts with the sadness and frustration that comes with seeing the gender bias that exists in research. This is not at all a problem of the PRBB, but a general one, but let me exemplify it with the data I have from my workplace.
Nearly 60% of the 1,300 residents of the PRBB are women and 63% of residents are less than 35 years old. So, young women, between 25 and 35 years old are the majority of the PRBB residents. PhD students are the largest community (227 people), after the administration and management staff (232). The number of senior researchers is, as expected, quite lower (166). But what is significant is the low representation of the female collective in this community; only 30% of the senior scientists are women.
So, while 60% is the average representation of women at the PRBB, this percentage decreases to 30% when we look only at the top level scientists. Actually, as you can see in the graph above, there is a very marked decrease in the female collective representation (clear green) as one goes up the ladder - starting from a 75% of female undergraduates! And I wonder, how do the 25% of science male students end up occupaying 70% of the senior research posts????
There is clearly something wrong here. Despite the shaking speed at which science advances, it seems that in the subject of gender equality we are going at snail pace. We seem to be in a better position than other sectors of the society (can you imagine that!?), but there really is still much to do.
I invite you to think of some of the reasons why this might be the case and, more importantly, to think of some possible solutions. Please write in this blog any comments or ideas you have...