Women are less likely to be cited as an expert scientific source in news articles than men, despite the fact that studies show women are more likely to engage in science outreach. In turn, men are invited twice as often to publicly speak about science. This gender diversity problem, scientists point out in PLOS Biology on Tuesday, is always blamed on the same excuse: Gatekeepers claim they don’t know women who work on the topic they’re looking at, and all the women they did ask were unavailable.
In 2018, a team of women scientists decided the time for excuses was over. They founded 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization including a database called Request a Woman Scientist. This public register includes women-identifying experts across disciplines and geographic regions alongside with one crucial detail — their contact information.
In the new paper, the team reports on their mission’s progress. The name “500 Women Scientists” stemmed from their hope that at least 500 women would sign an open letter pledging to “build an inclusive scientific community dedicated to training a more diverse group of future leaders in science.” Within hours of posting their letter, they surpassed their goal: Over 20,000 people from more than 100 countries declared their support.
Furthermore, the database has grown. This study shows that, in under a year, more than 7,500 women from 174 scientific disciplines and 133 countries have voluntarily signed up. These are volunteers who are interested in participating in panels, public outreach and interacting with the media. And the data shows that’s what’s happening: The vast majority of the time these women are contacted, it’s by a member of media, followed by a request to be on a panel or speak to an educational institution.
However a survey of the available experts, in which 1,276 of the 7,500 responded, shows that its only a minority that’s been contacted. Eighty-nine percent of the experts haven’t been reached out to yet.
So despite the existence of a useful tool, the problem persists: The site is connecting experts to people who might not have found them otherwise, but there’s plenty of room for growth when it comes to actually being reached out to. It’s an issue that permeates the field at large and can influence generations to come.
The six-member, all-female team behind the article write:
“The underrepresentation of women perpetuates a broader issue in science — expertise relayed to the public does not reflect the true diversity of people and perspectives in science today and across society at large. Furthermore, the lack of visibility of women experts reinforces the idea that science can only be accessed and informed by people who conform to the white male scientist stereotype.”
The focus of the team now is to revamp the site, improve its functionality, and work on recruiting more participants. They are well aware that there are more than 7,500 women in STEM — the question is, how can they get people to listen to them?
A global online register of women scientists, ready to share their science, was established by a cohort of volunteer women from the grassroots organization 500 Women Scientists on January 17th, 2018. In less than one year, the database “Request a Woman Scientist” comprised over 7,500 women from 174 scientific disciplines and 133 countries. The database is built upon a voluntary questionnaire regarding career stage, degree, scientific discipline, geographic location, and other self-identifying dimensions of representation. The information was visualized using the software platform Tableau, with dropdown menus that help query the database and output a list of names, email addresses, and websites. The biological sciences and women scientists from the United States of America were best represented in the database. A survey of women in the database conducted in November 2018 showed that of 1,278 respondents, 11% had been contacted since signing up for a variety of engagements, including media, peer review, panel participation, educational outreach, and professional/research connections. These engagements resulted in consultations for articles, video chats with students, and speaking opportunities at conferences and events. With improved functionality and marketing, outreach in the global south, and future translation in other languages, this database will further promote the profile and participation of women scientists across society, which in turn will benefit the advancement of science.