Women in science: tips for more visibility

dIt’s a sad reality that women are less likely to pursue academic careers. While about the same number of women and men graduate, only every third person with a habilitation is a woman and of those with their own seat only a tenth. Publications in professional journals are essential for a scientific career, as they are the gateway for habilitation positions, professorships and chairs to receive grants, research grants and prizes. But women publish less than men, which is often explained by being less scientifically productive, for example because they take care of the family more, work in an environment where they don’t feel very comfortable or in the right position. However, an extensive study from the United States now shows that women generally perform no less. On the contrary, at all stages of their scientific careers and consistently across disciplines, they appeared as authors of specialist journals less often than their achievement would merit.

The team led by Julia Lane, a professor of statistics at New York University, collected data from 9,778 research teams in the United States and 128,859 researchers over four years. They compared the data with 39,426 professional articles and 7,675 patents written or filed by these teams. An enormous dataset emerged: 17.9 million authorships of specialist articles and 3.2 million patent inventions. All hierarchies were included – ie students, scientific collaborators at all career levels and professors – as well as all common scientific fields: including physics, biology, mathematics, medicine, social sciences, engineering, computer and earth sciences and agriculture. Although female researchers did almost half of the work, on average only a third of the author lists were women — in fact, it should have been half. Overall, 21 out of 100 men have ever been named as authors and 12 out of 100 women have been named as authors, even though they had the same workload. The higher the magazine, the less likely women are to be mentioned. Even if the research team calculated possible influencing factors – such as education level or position, how long you have been on the team or in which subject – the result had no influence on this.

“I was surprised that the effect is so clear and statistically so reliable,” said Frauke Kreuter, a professor of statistics and data science at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. It is clearly the task of the team leader to involve all employees fairly and to take into account possible authorship. “Unfortunately, it is difficult to change their behavior in the short term.” Training modules could help with this. Here, for example, PhD students learn when to expect co-authorship, what constitutes a scientific contribution and what is more of an auxiliary work, for which they may only be mentioned in recognition. In her team, Kreuter relies on rounds in which she explicitly asks each member: about the contribution, the further projects, their own opinion, wishes or criticism. She found the result of the New York study shocking that not only 43 percent of women, but also 38 percent of men did not appear as authors, even though they were involved. “This shows that the work of researchers is generally insufficiently recognized. It is time for a research culture in which respect is normal.”

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