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Women are 2.5 times less likely than men to ask questions in departmental academic seminars, based on a new study of 250 talks at 35 institutions in 10 countries. The study also considered survey responses from some 600 academics across fields in 20 countries. The surveys indicate that male and female respondents sometimes don’t ask questions when they want to ask them. But, unlike men, women said they refrained due to internal versus external factors, such as “not feeling clever enough” or “couldn't work up the nerve.”

In the observational study, women tended to ask more questions when more questions were asked: When 15 questions were asked in all, beyond the median of six, there was 8 percent increase in the proportion of questions asked by women. When the first question in a seminar was asked by a man, the proportion of subsequent questions asked by women decreased by 6 percent, according to the study.

"While calling on people in the order that they raise their hands may seem fair, it may inadvertently result in fewer women asking questions because they might need more time to formulate questions and work up the nerve," co-author Alyssa Croft, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, said in a statement. Among other possible interventions, the study recommends that departments take a small break between talks and question-and-answer periods so that women have time to formulate their questions. “Women’s Visibility in Academic Seminars: Women Ask Fewer Questions than Men” was published in PLOS One.