Gender Parity Trends for Invited Speakers at Four Prominent Virology Conference Series

J Virol. 2017 Jul 27;91(16):e00739-17. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00739-17. Print 2017 Aug 15.


Scientific conferences are most beneficial to participants when they showcase significant new experimental developments, accurately summarize the current state of the field, and provide strong opportunities for collaborative networking. A top-notch slate of invited speakers, assembled by conference organizers or committees, is key to achieving these goals. The perceived underrepresentation of female speakers at prominent scientific meetings is currently a popular topic for discussion, but one that often lacks supportive data. We compiled the full rosters of invited speakers over the last 35 years for four prominent international virology conferences, the American Society for Virology Annual Meeting (ASV), the International Herpesvirus Workshop (IHW), the Positive-Strand RNA Virus Symposium (PSR), and the Gordon Research Conference on Viruses & Cells (GRC). The rosters were cross-indexed by unique names, gender, year, and repeat invitations. When plotted as gender-dependent trends over time, all four conferences showed a clear proclivity for male-dominated invited speaker lists. Encouragingly, shifts toward parity are emerging within all units, but at different rates. Not surprisingly, both selection of a larger percentage of first-time participants and the presence of a woman on the speaker selection committee correlated with improved parity. Session chair information was also collected for the IHW and GRC. These visible positions also displayed a strong male dominance over time that is eroding slowly. We offer our personal interpretation of these data to aid future organizers achieve improved equity among the limited number of available positions for session moderators and invited speakers.IMPORTANCE Politicians and media members have a tendency to cite anecdotes as conclusions without any supporting data. This happens so frequently now, that a name for it has emerged: fake news. Good science proceeds otherwise. The underrepresentation of women as invited speakers at international scientific conferences exemplifies a present-day discussion topic usually occurring without facts to support or refute the arguments. We now provide records profiling four prominent virology conferences over the years 1982 to 2017 with the intention that the trends and accompanying analyses of the gender parity of invited speakers may allow the ongoing discussions to be informed.

Keywords: conference programs; gender; implicit bias; scientific visibility; speaker lists.