Women are currently underrepresented among speakers at scientific meetings, both in absolute terms and relative to their representation among attendees. However, a new study suggests one way to address this deficit.
An analysis of 460 scientific symposia to be published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), reveals that the inclusion of at least one woman on a convening committee increases the proportion of female speakers by as much as 74% and significantly reduces the likelihood the session would have an all-male list of speakers.
Despite making gains in representation among rosters of undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral positions in the sciences, women are still not proportionally represented in the higher echelons of academia, says co-author Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
If you're a scientist, speaking at scientific meetings can be an important feather in your cap, an achievement that can help you get ahead in your career, he says. “Hence, increasing the number of women who present their work at large meetings could translate into more women succeeding in science,” says Casadevall.
Casadevall and Jo Handelsman of Yale University examined 460 symposia involving 1,845 speakers in two large meetings sponsored by the ASM—the General Meeting and the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC). At these meetings, select groups of session conveners choose speakers for plenary sessions and individual symposia.
Casadevall and Handelsman classified sessions according to whether they had been convened by two men, a man and woman, or two women, then tallied the gender representation among speakers for each symposium.
Despite differences in the operating procedures for the two meetings, the results for the general meeting and ICAAC closely paralleled one another: In both there was a positive correlation between the participation of women as session conveners and participation by female scientists in those sessions. At the general meeting, sessions convened by all men had an average of 25% female speakers, and sessions where the convener team had at least one woman had an average of 43% female speakers—a 72% increase. At ICAAC, including at least one woman on the convening team was associated with 74% more female invited speakers.
“Meeting program committees could carefully consider the gender composition of those assigned to pull together scientific sessions and make efforts to involve women scientists as conveners for sessions and symposia,” says Casadevall.