The gender gap in science

A post in sciblogs a while back commented on the gender gap in science, particularly the lack of females in senior positions based on recent findings of a survey conducted by the Association for Women in Science.

One thing I would like to highlight that seems to missed out frequently in these conversations is the actual success there has been with actually attracting women into science programs over the last half decade or so. malefemale

The result of this is that there is, especially in the tertiary biology field, more females than males (And in the US there are more females getting degrees than males now). This is something that has been blatantly obvious to me because I have observed this in all my classes throughout my university years since 2003.

Because we have this large bolus of females still coming through the system we have to understand that the success of promoting women into science careers is yet to have its effect on plugging this gender gap that is still largely apparent at the latter/ senior career levels (e.g. number of women as PIs or HODs). However I believe that we are not too far off from seeing this as there appears to be (well at UoA anyway) a sizeable cohort of talented, female, early career scientists (at the post doc / scientist level).

The most important thing we should be focusing on is how we can ensure that these new generation of females scientists/ technologists coming through the system stay in science and progress their careers at a similar rate compared to males, if not faster. It is well documented that a large number of science grads move into  non-science careers. Will this be biased towards females or males? Will more females leave our shores for better opportunities overseas than males ? Will we attract more females/ males to our shores? Unfortunately we don’t know the answer.

Encompassed within this is something that Shaun Hendy, a wicked kiwi scientist and sciblogger, discussed in his recent post. That is, reducing the impact that family commitments have on a female’s career progression.  I’m particularly in favour of his suggestion around ‘restart grants’ to launch females back into the workplace after following periods of absence (typically family commitments). There is evidence to suggest that decreasing the effect this absence has on a female’s career leads to a tremendous positive economic impact (I’m trying to locate the article I read on this but cant for the life of me find it. Will let you know when I find it).

The gender gap issue is a worldwide problem not just a NZ one. I can see the tides turning soon in our favour so why not take advantage of this and make NZ a great place for foreign females to come and do their research? Attract talented females (and possibly their partners) to counter the brain drain.


  1. We should also be careful not to get to fixated on having the perfect 50:50 ratio of male:females. It should be entirely about ensuring that diversity is maintained. Meaning this condition also extends to nationality/ race diversity.
  2. I acknowledge there is still a lack of females entering engineering and computer science related tertiary programmes.
  3. Breaking news 9/20 Marsden grants that went to the University of Auckland went to female researchers.



Peter Griffin’s post

Shaun Hendy’s post

Article in Fast Company

ScienceMag blog post


Graeme @


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