Increasing Women’s Participation at Academic Conferences

A new study by James Davenport finds that men are more likely to ask questions during conference presentations especially when a man chairs the session. Davenport and a group of volunteers collected data for 225 astronomy talks at the AAAS American Astronomical Society conference. Seventy-eight of these presentations were by women speakers (34.7%) and 147 (65.3%) were by male speakers. A total of 634 questions were recorded during these talks, with only a quarter of the questions asked by women (153 questions) and almost 76% of questions asked by men.

The study shows that the gender ratio of speakers and questions are relatively similar: when women speak more men ask questions (74%) and when men speak men still ask more questions (77%). This is not simply due to the fact that there are more men in attendance, as the gender of the chairs has an impact.

Almost 3/4 of the conference chairs were male (109) and women chairs were a minority (44 women or 29%). When men chair sessions, 80% of the questions are asked by men.

Davenport is seeking to extend this study to look at a broader range of papers and to specifically test the relationship between the gender of the chairs to the questions asked.

This study supports the point that Jonathan Eisen made during our STEM Women discussion; it’s not enough to try to get more women speakers (noting that White cisgender able-bodied women are more likely than other women and gender minorities to be keynote speakers). Organisers need to reflect on what is stopping women from coming to and participating in conferences as fully as men. Jonathan notes childcare is one issue that prevents some women from attending. Sexual harassment, an unwelcoming environment for LGBTQIA colleagues, poor accessibility, and other issues also keep women and femmes from getting the most out of conferences. Organisers also need to address what happens once women sign up.

This post was first published on Google+.