Women in science positions.
The continuing lack

Periodic table of elements and laboratory tools - Women and science

There has been a great increase of women in science and engineering education in various parts of the world. But everywhere they continue to be under-rappresented in scientific professions and in senior positions. Some figures

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Under-representation of women in science, medicine and engineering professions especially at senior positions remains a persistent fact. There has been enormous increase in terms of women in science and engineering education in various parts of the world. Women for example earned 41% of scientific and engineering (S&E) doctoral degrees awarded in the United States in 2008. Similar figures exist in Australia, Canada, the European Union, and Mexico. Women earned more than half of S&E doctoral degrees in Portugal and less than one-quarter of S&E doctoral degrees in the Netherlands, South Korea, and Taiwan (National Science Board, 2012). Yet, there is lack of proportional increase in the scientific professions and the workplace. Women are making up 59% of all graduates, 46% of PhD graduates, but represent only 33% of European researchers. Overall, women account for slightly more than one-quarter of world’s researchers. There are some regional variations and exceptions. Asia women account only 18% of researchers (UNESCO, 2010). As regards researchers, only Lithuania and Latvia could reach a gender balance, with 51.3 % and 50.8 % of female researchers respectively. Latin America and the Caribbean stand close - with 46% of female researchers. The situation worsens at the higher echelons, in terms of prestigious positions awards and recognition. Women remain clustered in lower academic positions, and relatively few are able to be at the higher ranks. Women constitute 21% of Full Professors, 37% of Associate Professors, and 42% of Junior Faculty in the United States in the year 2008 (National Science Board, 2012). Women constitute 20% of full professors in European Union States, the case is even starker for scientific fields (She Figures, 2012). In the UK, the figure is just 17% - only 7% in engineering and technology; and 9% in the natural sciences. As revealed by my empirical study of Indian scientific institutions, only 3.6 % of the women are in the rank of professor, whereas 60.7 percent are assistant professor and 35.7% are in the rank of associate professor [i]. Women are also under-represented in decision making bodies. On average, only 10% of universities were headed by a female rector and 15.5% of institutions in the Higher Education Sector were led by women throughout the EU 27 in 2010. Women remain underrepresented on boards, too. While the EU-27 average was 36%, women made up just 31% of board members in the UK in 2010. Gender bias has been reported in various other dimensions of science, such as peer review system, membership of academies, editorial boards. Even the awards in science, technology, engineering, and medical (STEM) fields are not free from gender biases (Lincoln, Pincus, Koster & Leboy, 2012).

Figure 1: Proportion of female PhD (ISCED 6) graduates by broad field of study, 2010

tabella 1


Figure 2: Proportion of female Professor (grade A staff) by main field of science, 2010

tabella 2

Figure 3: Women as apercenatge of Professors in USA

figura 3

Figura 4: Number of heads of institutions in the Higher Education Sector (HES) by sex, 2010

figura 4


What are the social, economic, political, socio-cultural, and socio-psychological barriers? Why does science and technology remain ‘gendered’, transcending time and space? Why aren’t more women pursuing careers in science, engineering, and math? Is the lack of women in these fields a consequence of societal discouragements, innate differences in ability between the sexes, or differences in aspirations? Top researchers debate over this and describe and dissect the evidence to know how biology and society conspire (Ceci & Williams, 2010). The challenge remains. Certainly, gender-science association is a cause for concern over all parts of the world.



Ceci, S. & Williams, W. (2010) The mathematics of sex: how biology and society conspire to limit talented women and girls. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Kumar, N. (Ed.). (2012) Gender and science: Studies across cultures. New Delhi, India:

Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press. 

Lincoln, A. E., Pincus, S., Koster, J. B., & Leboy, P. S. (2012). The Matilda effect in science:

Awards and prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s. Social Studies of Science, 42, 307–320.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2013) Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: Special Report NSF 13-304. Arlington, VA. Available at

UNESCO (2010) Global education digest: Comparing education statistics across the world.



[i] Indian data regarding this is not available from the official resources.