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Women scientists lose out on research prizes March 19, 2012

Posted by The Raise Project in Uncategorized.

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Male scientists still receive an outsized number of research awards compared to women, a study finds.

Nobel Prize-winner Marie Curie sits at a table, while Pierre Curie approaches her with a beaker.

Women are nominated for research prizes just as frequently as men, however unconscious bias and men running prize panels seems to be swaying award outcomes, suggests the study in the current Social Studies of Science journal.

Varying widely by discipline, women receive about 40% of all doctorates in science (around 70% of psychology degrees but less in other fields) and engineering (about 10%), and have long suffered from lower odds of becoming full professors or attaining other markers of prestige in those fields.

“A large body of social science research finds that work done by women is perceived as less important or valuable that that done by men,” begins the study led by sociologist Anne Lincoln of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In their research, the study authors looked at award patterns from 13 scientific and medical societies from 1991 (206 awards) to 2010 (296 awards).

At first glance, things looked better for women, who won 78% more awards in 2010 compared to two decades earlier. “Closer analysis shows that women continued to win far fewer of the more prestigious scholarly awards than the other types of awards, however – averaging just 10 percent. By comparison, women won 32.2 percent of service awards and 37.1 percent of teaching awards between 2001 and 2010,” says the study.

How come? The study authors found seven math, science and medical societies willing to open their award process for examination.

Looking at nominations and composition of award committees, the study team found that women were statistically less likely win awards from panels headed by men, winning 5% of those awards, against 23% of prizes from panels headed by women. And men were much more likely to head prestigious research award panels. The study describes a “Matilda” effect, the opposite of the so-called “Matthew effect” where stars in fields attract ever-more resources beyond their due (‘the rich get richer’), afflicting women scientists (‘the poor get poorer’):

“Our findings suggest that the ‘Matilda Effect’ persists – men receive an outsized share of scholarly awards and prizes compared with their representation in the nomination pool, despite efforts to increase nominations of women. That is, though some awards have few female nominees, the evidence suggests that women are not winning not because they are not being nominated. Rather, although overt gender discrimination generally continues to decline in American society, our research is consistent with other studies that document the culturally held belief that women’s scholarly efforts are less important than those of men. A consequence of this belief is that women continue to be disadvantaged with respect to the receipt of scientific awards and prizes, particularly for research.”

What to do about it? First award societies should let prize panels know about this tilt toward service awards for women and away from research awards. Putting more women on prize panels would also help.

“When male committee members seek nominees, they are thus more likely to contact other men, rather than women. Consequently, ensuring that women are on prize committees, especially as chairs, is particularly important,” they conclude.

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