In 2012 Lynne Isbell and her colleagues published a fascinating paper looking at the role of gender in conference proceedings among primatology meetings. In it they found that male organized symposia had half the number of female participants than those organized by women or both men and women. This was particularly interesting because primatology is a discipline where women have the numerical majority.

To say this opened up a can of worms would be an understatement. It provided a great mechanism for discussion on twitter and in the blogosphere (for good write ups of the original paper check here, here and here and of gender representation in geosciences here).  A positive outcome of these discussions was that Jacqueline Gill (soon to be at U of Maine), Karen Lips (U of Maryland) and Mollie Thurman (here at Columbia) and I have decided to do a similar analysis at data from the Ecological Society of AmericaAmerican Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the Society for Conservation Biology.

We are still in the preliminary stages of this research, but so far Mollie and I have worked up the data from the SCB meetings. We have looked at data from symposia for which we were able to identify the gender of the symposium organizers and the symposium speakers.  Taking data from 1999 (n=6) 2002 (n=16), 2006 (n=18), 2007 (n=19), 2009 (n=11), 2010 (n=36) and 2011 (n=42) we were able to plot the data that we present here:


 As you can see this is super preliminary (i.e. stats such as they are were done in Excel not R), but from this first pass we can see that there’s a fairly strong relationship between the two variables (r2= .29).  What this means is that (at least from the preliminary data) that woman organizing symposia provides more opportunities for women participating in science in general.  We are going to be expanding this analysis, but I wanted to throw it out to the general community. We’d love to get your thoughts and comments.

The major things we need to think about:

1) Membership. I want to get a better idea of the number of women in the professional societies. One reason why women are under-represented might be that there just aren’t that many women. I suspect that this is not true, because the effect of gender on participation would not appear otherwise, but it’s still something I want to investigate more

2) Trans scientists. We are examining this data through an explicitly cis frame of mind.  We do not have the data to identify the degree of trans scientists participating in these conferences. Sadly trans scientists face numerous challenges and we would like to provide data to highlight these issues. However there were no self-identifying questionnaires at these conferences, so sadly these scientists remain invisible in our analyses.

Again, I can’t stress enough that these data are preliminary, but as I am an advocate of open science I want to open this up to the community at large.  Tell us what you think.