Why Gender in Science Matters and How We Can Make it Matter Again

Introduction

Analyzing gender in science has two levels: counting how many women are participating in science as a labour force and the second is critically examining the knowledge produced in science. The arguments supporting these developments are either using the efficiency in economic terms, human rights, and quality in terms of scientific excellence. Recent research explored how to measure those structural causes and how to implement structural change to improve women’s participation in research. As gender studies as a discipline grew out from humanities and social sciences transformation of STEM research and knowledge production is still at the beginning.

In the recent years there is a notable progress towards integration of gender into science, there are more and more projects which stimulate the involvement of female scientists and gender experts, less projects on critically analyzing power structures on academic knowledge production. Research needs to be transformed as the „proper integration of sex and gender analysis in research stimulates the creation of gender-responsible science and technology, and by doing so enhance the lives of both men and women around the globe” (genderSTE, 2013). Because the shortage of women researchers, causes biases in the impacts of research, special strategic measures are needed to overcome this shortage. Raising awareness about the great importance of gender in science is not just about gender equality and gender mainstreaming, it is also about economic efficiency and a more just society.

The positive impact of gender in science and how to achieve it

In recent years the European Commission put an appreciable effort in pointing out the prominent importance of gender in science. In order to help develop the gender dimension in EU research, the European Commission assembled an “Innovation through Gender” expert group, with the dual goals to (1) provide scientists and engineers with practical methods for sex and gender analysis, and to (2) develop case studies as concrete illustrations of how sex and gender analysis leads to new ideas and excellence in research (Gendered Innovation, 2013). The above mentioned expert group composed a report on how gender analysis contributes to research, providing a thorough and detailed document on gendered innovation. „Gendered Innovations offer sophisticated methods of sex and gender analysis to scientists and engineers. Integrating these methods into basic and applied research produces excellence in science, health & medicine, and engineering research, policy, and practice” (Gendered Innovations, 2013).

Integrating a gender dimension in science provides a wide range of different and new breakthroughs. „If research institutions and industry want to create valuable and sustainable research results and technologies for people (the market), it is recommended to include women at all stages of the research and innovation process in order to keep a strong focus on the development of technology with meaning and innovation that implies real life benefits for most users” (genderSTE, 2013).

When summing up the three most important benefits of gendered innovations we can say that gendered innovations:

  1. Add value to research and engineering by ensuring excellence and quality in outcomes and enhancing sustainability.
  2. Add value to society by making research more responsive to social needs.
  3. Add value to business by developing new ideas, patents, and technology (Gendered Innovations, 2013).

In order to successfully integrate a gender dimension into science there is a need of steering women towards the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields of studies. The urgency of incorporating the female perspective is without question and one of the most important tasks for further development. We know that people differ in abilities, but even looking at students with identical abilities, women are still between 50% and 70% less likely than men to complete a degree in the STEM subjects (Breda and Ly, 2012). Research on why are women under-represented in the STEM fields of studies, mainly points out at how women are discouraged from majoring in the STEM fields, because of  gender stereotypes in family and school, eventually resulting in segregation in higher education (Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe, 2010).

Gender inequalities are also caused by failure to recognize women’s knowledge and knowhow. There is for instance a long tradition of women’s knowledge and technical expertise as agriculturalists, gardeners, animal-breeders, forest users, managers of their community water needs and resources and technological innovators and agents of change (Gender and Science, n.d). The key role given to research and innovation in striving towards a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe means that the EU should make full use of its human capital – thereby involving both men and women (Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation, 2012).

In 2010 in Europe, female PhD graduates equaled or outnumbered men in all broad fields of study, except for science, mathematics and computing (women’s share was 40%), as well as engineering, manufacturing and construction (26%), the two fields with the highest overall number of PhD graduates (She Figures 2012 Gender in Research and Innovation, 2013).

Another issue is the scarce presence of women in top scientific and academic positions. Only 18% of full professors in Europe are women; 13% of heads of higher education institutions and 22% of board members in research decision-making (Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation, 2012).

Gender-aware management of universities and research organizations would be an efficient solution of the above identified issues, as it would have a positive impact on policies and practices in the recruitment, promotion and retention of both women and men, thus ultimately benefiting the very quality of research (Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation, 2012).

Conclusion

Gender diversity in research teams can lead to unforeseen breakthroughs as having both female and male experts can provide different approaches and ideas. Intersectional perspectives contribute to the understanding of structural dimensions and privileges. More prominent women involvement in research could also help in prioritizing different research issues and in solving existing research questions in novel ways. Innovative technologies are equally used by men and women and they need to be responsive to the needs of individuals of both genders.

References

  1. Breda T. and Ly S. T. (2012), Science: why the gender gap? Centre for the Economics of Education Discussion Paper No. 138
  2. Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe (2010), European Commission, accessed 21 August 2014, http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/thematic_reports/120en.pdf
  3. genderSTE (2013), European Cooperation in Science and Technology, accessed 21 August 2014, www.genderste.eu
  4. Gendered Innovation - How Gendered Innovations Analysis Contributes to Research (2013), European Commission, accessed 21 August 2014,  http://ec.europa.eu/research/science  society/document_library/pdf_06/gendered_innovations.pdf
  5. Gender and Science n.d., United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, accessed 21 August 2014, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/priority-areas/gender-and-science/
  6. She Figures 2012 Gender in Research and Innovation (2013), European Commission, accessed 25 August 2014, http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/she-figures-2012_en.pdf
  7. Structural change in research institutions: Enhancing excellence, gender equality and efficiency in research and innovation (2012), European Commission, accessed 21 August2014,http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/structural-changes-final-report_en.pdf

 

Post written by Karolina Lendák-Kabók (PhD candidate, Center for Gender Studies, University of Novi Sad), Andrea Pető (Professor, CEU)

 

 

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