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The proportion of active American female researchers in STEM increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2022.

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Female representation among scholarly researchers has increased in the United States and across the globe over the past two decades. But when the numbers are broken down by field, career stage and research impact, among other factors, gender disparities persist, according to a large-scale study by Elsevier, a Dutch academic publishing and global information analytics company.

The study, which was published Monday, found that the global percentage of active female researchers jumped from 28 percent to 41 percent globally between 2001 and 2022.

In the U.S, the proportion of active female researchers has kept pace with global trends, rising from 30 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2022, according to the study.

“There’s progress, but there’s still a lot of areas to do better,“ said Mirit Eldor, managing director of Life Sciences Solutions at Elsevier and secretary of its Inclusion and Diversity External Advisory Board. “For researchers to tackle the most complex and important problems in the world—like the climate crisis and sustainability—we do need a wider talent pool and more diverse perspectives.”

To produce its new global analysis, Elsevier gathered records for around 20 million researchers from Scopus, an abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature including scientific journals, books and conference proceedings. The firm then used an AI-driven algorithm to infer the gender of the indexed authors.

The data showed a general upward trend in female representation, but a news release from Elsevier said it’s not enough.

“At the current pace of change, equality remains unacceptably far away,” the release said. “Although women’s representation in mathematics, engineering and computer science is increasing, it is not projected to reach parity with men’s until 2052.”

Men Dominate STEM in U.S., Globally

While American women producing research in the social and health sciences now make up 51 and 50 percent of researchers, men still dominate STEM in the U.S. and across the globe.

The share of global STEM researchers who were women increased from 26 percent in 2000 to nearly 39 percent in 2022, according to the study. The proportion of active American female researchers in STEM is even lower, though it increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2022.

“We still have these perceptions on what is more woman-appropriate and what is less,” Eldor said, noting that globally, women represent more than half of researchers in nursing and psychology, but only about a quarter of mathematics researchers.

And while publications by female STEM researchers in the United States have a field-weighted citation impact of 1.21—well above the 0.98 global average for women—it’s still less than the impact of American male STEM researchers’ publications of 1.27.

Gender Disparities Vary by Country

The study also revealed that gender disparities among researchers vary widely by country, but that the U.S. falls just above the average.

While female researchers from Portugal and Argentina make up more than half of researchers (around 51 percent in both countries), female researchers from the U.S. remain outnumbered by men, making up 42 percent of active researchers. Japan and Egypt had the lowest female representation, with women making up roughly 22 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

The report also found that although women are well represented among early career researchers—making up 45 percent of researchers with fewer than five years of experience—their representation steadily decreases at more senior levels; Women make up 27 percent of active authors with 21 or more years of experience.

“Maintaining work-life balance, combating gender bias and navigating institutional and funding disparities all pose significant challenges,” the study said. “To support progress in gender diversity, policies must prioritize retaining earlier-career women in research.”

Eldor said that having fewer senior female researchers may also contribute to a leaky pipeline to the higher ranks of academia because it means fewer role models and mentors for early-career female researchers.

Women File Far Fewer Patents

That under-representation has implications beyond career success. Globally, women received 37 percent of research grants in 2022—up from 29 percent in 2009. Within that same timeframe, women in the United States had an increase in research grants from around 25 percent to a little over 30 percent, according to the report.

Globally, women also file far fewer patent applications than men, according to the study: While men appear as filers on 97 percent of all patent applications, women only appear on 26 percent of applications. The United States largely mirrors that breakdown, with men appearing as filers on 97 percent of applications compared to women appearing on 28 percent of applications.

Enacting policies that offer more support for female researchers throughout their careers (such as offering more paid maternity leave and flexible working conditions) are a part of the solution, but Eldor said collecting more data about gender disparities is also key.

“That shows us where we are and what interventions are working and where we need to try a different approach because we’re not moving the needle,” she said. “We did all of this with data we inferred with an algorithm, but self-ID would be better.”

There’s already some research about why American women remain underrepresented in scholarly publications.

A paper published in Science Advances in October concluded that women are likelier than men to leave the professoriate at all stages of their careers, and that workplace climate, not work-life balance, is the biggest reason they leave.

“Much of the retention literature has focused on work-life balance policies and mentorship programs, in part due to the emphasis on early-career women,” Katherine Spoon, the paper’s lead author and a doctoral student in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s computer science department, said in an email. “But the fact that we actually see a larger gender gap among senior researchers means that there’s something more happening.”

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