Jones, T.M., Fanson, K.V., Lanfear, R., Symonds, M.R.E. & Higgie, M. (2014) Gender differences in conference presentations: a consequence of self-selection? PeerJ 2: e627. Link.
What’s it about?
Using data from the Australasian Evolution Society conference, we examined why it appeared that more men than women gave long talk presentations (at a conference where the option was to give a long talk or a short talk). We found that the predominant explanation was that women were less likely than men to request a long-talk (although there was also a non-significant tendency for men to be more likely to be successful at getting a long talk, when they requested it also). The results suggest that the profile of women in science may not be helped by ‘self-selection’ against putting one’s name forward.
What’s the story behind it?
As President of the Australasian Evolution Society, I organised the biannual conference in Geelong in 2013. During the conference a twitter conversation between two Robs (Lanfear and Brooks), along the lines of ‘there seems to be more men than women giving long-talks’ raised a (momentarily) worrying possibility that, in our selection of who gave talks we had been subconsciously biased towards men. Others, including Theresa Jones, were also very interested in what was going on. Fortunately, once we started to crunch the data (a sterling job done particularly by Megan Higgie and Rob Lanfear, with the excellent presentational advice of Kerry Fanson), it became apparent that the real problem lay in women not actually requesting long talks as much as men. It was certainly great to return to an area which I had previously very much had strong interests in – gender differences in the way that women and men engage with science, and the consequences that this has for assessment of scientists. This paper and my earlier work really do strongly indicate that resolving the ‘leaky pipeline’ of women in science (the tendency for there to be fewer women in higher academic positions) requires both top down (changed assessment of what we think makes a good scientist) and bottom-up approaches (more encouragement for women to ‘put themselves out there’ through mentoring and opportunity).
The paper represented my first collaboration with Theresa, whom I’ve known for as long as I’ve been in Australia, as we were both post-docs with Mark Elgar. That we’ve known each other for 13 years without ever previously collaborating, despite the fact we’ve both published review papers on chemical communication is a little bit shocking – especially as it was an incredibly rewarding experience. Post-docs in the same lab out there – collaborate with each other before it’s too late!!!