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Striving for Balance

A study examining gender bias at the annual conference of a large scientific society heralds positive changes – but women are still underrepresented in some subspecialties (1). Co-author Jessica Prenni (Associate Professor, Director of Research Core Facilities, Director of Proteomics & Metabolomics Facility, Colorado State University) says the research was prompted by a discussion about how the scientific society could respond to gender inequity with constructive action.

“We realized that in order for change to happen, we need to first better understand where we are right now,” explains Prenni. “Our goal was to encourage dialogue on the topic and provide visibility to an issue that impacts all female scientists but that has been historically ignored.”

Figure 1. Male and female award recipients, session chairs and plenary speakers.

They found that the number of oral session chairs was proportionate to the society’s demographics (~70:30, male:female) – something that left Prenni feeling pleasantly surprised. “According to the numbers, our society is actually doing pretty well at maintaining a gender equity.”

However, gender disparity was more pronounced in certain technical sub-areas and for keynote speakers and award recipients (see Figure 1). “Your experience can vary based on how you are engaged in the society and which sessions you attend,” Prenni adds.

The survey has already had positive results; the society has responded with a new membership form that collects (voluntary) demographic information and an official diversity committee has also been formed to help ensure that things keep moving forward. Prenni has a caveat, however: “Though this result is positive, it is important that as a society we continue to promote change to ensure that we do not become complacent with the status quo.”

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  1. E Shishkova et al., “Gender diversity in a STEM subfield – analysis of a large scientific society and its annual conferences”, J Am Soc Mass Spectrom, 28, 2523 (2017).

About the Author

Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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