Women may own the social sciences and education but they are under-represented in more math-intensive fields, according to a paper which looks at the US, EU, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea and Indonesia. It was conducted by advocates of international gender issues from Women in Global Science&Technology and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World and it was funded by the Elsevier Foundation.
They make special note that the EU and US are low in female representation in hard science fields - but so is everyone else.
Across the world, billions are spent on outreach and recruitment programs to get more women into STEM fields but the efforts show negative results, they say, particularly in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science. Women are under-represented in degree programs for those fields, less than 30% in most countries. Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace. Around 30% is also the representation of men in the social sciences and education.
The analysis examined six countries but then the European Union as a bloc. Factors they used in their determination included entitlements like childcare and flexible work hours but also fuzzy, subjective metrics such as society policies and gender mainstreaming in government institutions.
Not surprisingly, they determined that countries (or regions, in the case of the EU) where government policies mandate health and childcare, equal pay and gender mainstreaming have more women. One of the main findings is that few countries collect consistent and reliable sex-disaggregated data in all of these areas, which inhibits their ability to implement effective enabling policies and programs and also makes analyses more difficult.
"We found that the absence of any one of these elements creates a situation of vulnerability for economies that want to be competitively positioned in the knowledge economy," states Sophia Huyer, the lead researcher and founding executive director of Women in Global Science & Technology. "No one country or region is ticking off all the boxes, and some are falling dismally short. This is a tremendous waste of resources. We are wasting resources educating women without following through, and we are missing out on the enormous potential that women represent."
There is no lack of access to education and women are not being discriminated against, but they say access to education is not a solution in and of itself. Women would seem to be choosing not to enter those fields less and child care might fix it
"This study identifies key areas of national strength and weakness, and we hope it will help form the basis of evidence-based policy making and aid going forward," said David Ruth, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation.
The evidence is that science is hard. It requires long hours and a great deal of dedication but there is no gender bias in hard fields. Women are hired for tenure and faculty jobs in greater proportion than their gender - when they apply and they do apply less often. And women get more PhDs, meaning that enjoy education but not necessarily want to enter a field as a career. Women are also the only gender that can have children and it may be that they want to pursue parenting with the same dedication they pursued academics or they sacrifice career opportunities for a spouse.
This is Phase I of an ongoing analysis.
The full study, the 'Gender Equality and the Knowledge Society Scorecard can be found at here.