Gender Diversity in a STEM Subfield - Analysis of a Large Scientific Society and Its Annual Conferences

J Am Soc Mass Spectrom. 2017 Dec;28(12):2523-2531. doi: 10.1007/s13361-017-1803-z. Epub 2017 Sep 26.


Speaking engagements, serving as session chairs, and receiving awards at national meetings are essential stepping stones towards professional success for scientific researchers. Studies of gender parity in meetings of national scientific societies repeatedly uncover bias in speaker selection, engendering underrepresentation of women among featured presenters. To continue this dialogue, we analyzed membership data and annual conference programs of a large scientific society (>7000 members annually) in a male-rich (~70% males), technology-oriented STEM subfield. We detected a pronounced skew towards males among invited keynote lecturers, plenary speakers, and recipients of the society's Senior Investigator award (15%, 13%, and 8% females, respectively). However, the proportion of females among Mid-Career and Young Investigator award recipients and oral session chairs resembled the current gender distribution of the general membership. Female members were more likely to present at the conferences and equally likely to apply and be accepted for oral presentations as their male counterparts. The gender of a session chair had no effect on the gender distribution of selected applicants. Interestingly, we identified several research subareas that were naturally enriched (i.e., not influenced by unequal selection of presenters) for either female or male participants, illustrating within a single subfield the gender divide along biology-technology line typical of all STEM disciplines. Two female-enriched topics experienced a rapid growth in popularity within the examined period, more than doubling the number of associated researchers. Collectively, these findings contribute to the contemporary discourse on gender in science and hopefully will propel positive changes within this and other societies. Graphical abstract ᅟ.

Keywords: Conference participation; Gender diversity in STEM; Gender equality; Scientific conference; Speaker selection; Women in science.

MeSH terms

  • Awards and Prizes
  • Bias
  • Career Mobility*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Research
  • Societies, Scientific*
  • Women's Rights