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Gender imbalances in academic fields still widespread, study finds

Men still predominate in engineering and computing, and women in nursing, education and social work

In addition to the well-known under-representation of women in top academic roles, certain academic fields are still dominated by particular genders, a study has found.

The analysis by the higher education analytics service U-Multirank, published on 15 November, found that there are “many departments and subjects where gender balance is not (yet) achieved, both among students enrolled and graduates, as well as among staff”.

Based on data from 2018-19 provided by 900 institutions from more than 80 countries around the world, the analysis found that men still outnumber women in engineering, computer science and physics, while women outnumber men in nursing, education and social work.

In electrical engineering, for example, the study found just one department out of 177 analysed in which women made up more than 40 per cent of the staff population—the minimum requirement for “gender balance” in accordance with European Commission’s classification.

The study also examined gender ratios at different career stages, and found the familiar pattern that the share of women decreases at higher posts. While women account for slightly more than half of undergraduate and masters students, they make up just less than half of PhD students, 44 per cent of academic staff and just 28 per cent of professors.

This pattern is often attributed to women facing greater challenges to progress in academia, including conscious and unconscious biases in assessments and less manageable work-life balances.

The European Commission, which has financially supported U-Multirank, published its own data on women’s participation in the EU R&D programme for a European Parliament hearing on 15 November. It said 36 per cent of researchers funded by the 2014-20 EU R&D programme were female, which was higher than the 32.8 per cent share of women in the EU research workforce as of 2017.

Nevertheless, the Commission stressed that efforts are underway to increase the share of women participating in the 2021-27 EU R&D programme, including requiring many kinds of participating organisations to have published plans for addressing gender equality in their institution.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe