A diverse and inclusive research enterprise is critical for advancing our understanding of the world. To support this endeavor and celebrate International Women’s Day, we are proud to announce the inaugural Women in Research Travel Grant Competition.
Our judges—society leaders and editors-in-chief from more than ten disciplines—shared their thoughts and insights about gender parity and diversity in research.
Virtually all of our judges shared a conviction that multiple perspectives in research results in better solutions.
Vicki McConnell, Geological Society of America, said, “I have learned there is more than one way to tackle a problem. That is how I have approached my research and geoscience career and I am sure that it’s the same with many women in science. It is what women and diversity bring to research - viewpoints and ideas to tackle vexing research questions from a slightly different angle. Whether it is how to assemble your research team, work through a project from start to finish solo, or asking the research question differently; that is the beauty of science and the universe we live in viewed through a diverse lens.”
As Elissa Chesler, from the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society, wrote, “Despite tremendous examples of significant scientific contributions by women, many women still experience barriers to entry into the field and on arrival, find both well-known and unexpected hurdles. Some have even come to believe that the research environment is not the enlightened space that they want to inhabit. To ensure that humanity’s scientific pursuits benefit from the perspectives that everyone has to offer, it is essential to provide women and girls experience in a research environment where they can invent, engineer and discover, exposing them to the satisfying, rewarding and meaningful careers in science.”
Some pointed out that the absence of varied perspectives has led to a lack of understanding in some fields. These judges share how the inclusion of women in research challenges established ideas:
Sally Johnstone, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, shared, “The evidence is clear, the more diverse a research team, the more likely the evidence can be generalized. While there are many women in educational research, the gender equity in neuroscience is lacking. A critical aspect of understanding learning is linked directly to neuroscience. Forty years ago neuroscience researchers focused primarily on male subjects, believing them to have less biological variability than females. Models were developed that only described ½ the human race. It is only as we enable more women to join research teams that inclusive models can develop.”
Sally Scholz, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, wrote, “Research in the humanities draws on centuries of ideas, endless resources, and profound wisdom. Researchers learn from the tragic failures and inspiring triumphs of real historical figures as well as important fictional characters. We explore cultures that build bridges of understanding across political divides. Research by and about women pushes the boundaries of the traditional canon in Philosophy, English, History, and Theology and challenges accepted presuppositions: it opens a future where diverse voices receive pride of place, new ideas flourish, and human relations deepen in complexity.”
Many judges also expressed the need for role models for future generations of scientists.
Kim E. Barrett, The Physiological Society, stated, “I cannot over-stress the importance of including all groups in the scientific enterprise, and especially women. Women have traditionally been under-represented in science, which can lead to a vicious cycle where girls do not aspire to scientific careers due to a lack of visible role models. But social science research teaches us that the most robust solutions to challenging problems arise when diverse teams work on the issue. And from a pragmatic standpoint, at a time when scientific workforce needs may outstrip the supply of well-trained individuals, we can’t afford to ignore 50% of the population.”
Pamela McGrath, Australian Anthropological Society, wrote, “When I began my graduate studies, one of the very first books that my (male) supervisor set me to read was '50 Key Contemporary Thinkers', published in 1994. Of the fifty 'thinkers' it reviewed, only six were women, three of whom were explicitly identified in relation to feminism. Until such time as women have the same opportunities as men to pursue research careers dedicated to 'thinking'--and not just thinking about women--we will continue to be disempowered, and the public knowledges upon which we all rely to make important decisions about our lives will remain biased towards particular perspectives that fail to do justice to the diversity of our world."
Others reaffirmed a commitment to removing barriers that prevent intersectional perspectives.
Frances Hughes, International Council of Nurses, stated, “As a female-dominated profession, we know of the critical importance of women’s contributions to game-changing research and practice. When women are active in science and research fields, it unlocks the agenda, ensuring women’s health is on the table. In order to reframe the study of health and disease in an inclusive, intersectional perspective of gender identity, race, disability, neurodiversity or sexuality, women must continue to take down the barriers that prevent them from getting involved.”
Susan Wray, The Physiological Society, wrote, “It is frustrating that we still need to be making the case for attracting, keeping and promoting women in science. We all know how it benefits science and society to have the widest and most inclusive workforce and we must continue to make these points and challenge when needed.
Rebecca Rinehart, American Psychiatric Association, wrote, “The research agenda for the 21st century must embrace a diversity of contributions if it is to address the future needs of society as a whole. An important part of that contribution comes from women, many of whom must strive to balance multiple priorities to pursue career, family, and personal and professional enrichment. The inclusion of women in the rich mixture of scientific research creates an environment open to others of varied ethnicity, sexuality, and racial background.”
Others pointed out that even in fields nearing or reaching gender parity, the proportion of women in leadership positions in those fields was still lagging.
Monica Di Luca, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, stated, "In 2014, women represented less than 40% of the members of scientific and administrative boards at a national level in 14 countries. Careful analysis demonstrated that at the level of graduate students there is no difference between the number of female and male graduates, but the higher up the system we go, the fewer women we found.
It does not make sense to educate and carefully steer trainees through the system and then simply watch them drop out. We need the diversity of women and men to tackle major challenges in research. "
From the benefits of diverse perspectives in the research process, to finding role models for future scientists, our judges all agree that inclusion and opportunity are essential for the success of research. For these reasons, and many more, we are proud to announce our Women in Research Travel Grant Competition. We encourage you to contribute your own perspective, share with your peers and enter the competition here.
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