Women Count

I am a counter by nature. I count things as an effective way to occupy my mind. How many people are in this room? How many are women? How many are wearing glasses? How many people are using a Mac versus a PC?

Once, sitting in a science team meeting as a graduate student, I noticed that I was the only woman in the group of about 15. At that time, it did not really bother me, but the scientist in me kicked into gear. I began gathering data. Was this situation unusual?

To learn more, I routinely calculated female to male ratios in various populations of scientists. At conferences, I counted the fraction of audience members who were female to establish a base statistic of the population of scientists. I compared that to the ratio of women giving oral presentations in that session, or the list of awardees, or the names of co‐investigators listed on a mission overview talk.

This carried over to evaluating research groups. Which professors never seemed to have female graduate students in their labs? Which ones had multiple female students? I began looking for correlations. Were female to male ratios higher when the leadership was female? Yes, they were.
The scientist in you is probably curious about my sample size, my accuracy in distinguishing women from men in a crowd or in an author list. While important, they are likely minuscule compared to the trend I saw.

Over time, the trend bothered me. The gender imbalance that exists in science is easily perpetuated and is harmful to our community as a whole.