Sexism In Science? UK Study Finds Women Scientists Get Fewer Grants, Less Funding Than Male Counterparts

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When it comes to gender inequality in scientific research, the cards are historically and indisputably stacked against women. “Despite efforts to narrow the gap, disparities still exist in hiring, earnings, funding and publishing,” Ars Technica noted. With that said, it might come as no surprise that a recent study found that female scientists in the UK whose work involves infectious diseases got fewer grants and received less funding than their male colleagues.

According to The Independent, researchers from London’s Infectious Disease Research Network analyzed more than 6,000 funding grants given out between 1997 and 2010. They found that less than a quarter of those grants – a mere 21 percent – went to women. During that period, male scientists received almost 1.8 billion pounds ($2.9 billion USD) in grants, whereas women received 488 million ($800 million).

Researchers also noted that the average grant for a study led by a woman was 43 percent less than those given to studies led by men.

“It is an unacceptable difference, indicative that women are in some way being disadvantaged, and there is a clear need for policies to address this,” Dr. Michael G Head, who led the study of sexism in scientific research, told The Independent.

While the authors did report that these discrepancies in funding decreased over the decade-long study, the gap still persists today. As Veooz reported, only one-third of career researchers today are women, even though women account for 50 percent of the European student population and 45 percent of the doctoral student population.

"We know that there is a problem attracting women into science careers in general," said Dr. Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering. "The point where scientists are trying to win their own grant funding is a really critical stage. Unfortunately the statistics show there's a big drop off in the numbers of women succeeding at that stage."

A separate study published last week in the journal Nature found that women worldwide are considerably underrepresented in academic publishing. After analyzing more than 5.4 million research papers, looking for patterns between gender and research output, among other variables, researchers found that globally, women represent fewer than 30 percent of authorships. The greatest gender imbalances in publishing were largely in the Middle East, while the countries that represented the most equal playing field were South American and Eastern European.

“Women are also much less likely to be listed in the prestigious first and last author positions,” Ars Technica noted. “For every article with a female first author, there are nearly two articles first-authored by men. Women are also significantly less likely to produce single-author papers.”

Receiving a grant, whether private or government, for research is a critical step for any scientist’s career development. Researchers want to make clear that it’s not that funders are inherently biased, but rather are urging the scientific community to investigate these inequalities further. 

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