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Where are the World’s Women in Physics?

“On the first day of the 7th IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics we heard about the scale of the challenge to redress gender inequity in physics. As the conference progresses we hope to learn more about how we can work together to improve the situation for women in physics,” said Professor Sarah Maddison, conference co-chair.

Women are less likely to have access to essential career resources

Dr Igle Gledhill (Witwatersrand University, South Africa) and Dr Rachel Ivie (American Institute of Physics) reported that:

  • There are no significant gender differences in career opportunities such as talking at a conference as an invited speaker, serving as editor of a journal or supervising students. But,
  • Women are less likely to have access to a range of career resources, such as sufficient funding, clerical and tech support, employees or students and support as a working parent. The differences appear small, but they compound over a career.
  • Family obligations affect women significantly more than men. Women report choosing a less demanding work schedule, becoming more efficient, and slowed career progression after becoming a parent. While parenthood has no negative impact on men’s careers and in fact men with children were more likely to say their careers progressed more quickly.
  • Women are much more likely to have a partner who is also a physicist.
  • Women physicists report doing more housework than men. Male physicists report earning more than their partners, many of whom are not physicists.
  • More women than men report that their workplace is unpleasant, and sometimes hostile.
  • Many more women than men have experienced, or are aware of, sexual harassment at work.

Their presentation was based on a 2018 survey of more than 30,000 researchers around the world, 7500 of whom are physicists.

Women are massively under-represented in physics journals

The ‘good’ news is that, when looking at papers from the last few years, about 25 per cent of astronomy and astrophysics authors are women, and their numbers have been steadily increasing. But such a positive trend is not evident in other disciplines of theoretical physics, reported Helena Mihaljević. Her team at HTW University of Applied Science Germany analysed open-access publication databases.

They also found that the so-called productivity gap, as a ratio of women’s over men’s productivity, is closing in astronomy and astrophysics for recent cohorts, but not in mathematics or theoretical physics. This may partly be due to different publciation practices in these fields, with astronomy being very collaborative with multi-author papers; while mathematics is more likely to have single author publicaitons.

Female authorship of various renowned physics papers remains at or below 10 per cent. However, the bright spots are astronomy and astrophysics, which shows an overall positive trend. 

Only 18 per cent of Australian STEM professors are women

28 per cent of people employed in Australian science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields are women but only 18 per cent of professors are women.

Professor Lisa Harvey Smith, Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador, also reported that of the women who graduated with a STEM degree in 2011, only one in ten were working in STEM five years later, compared with one in five men.


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