Closing the Gap: Societies may help promote female representation in academic science

Closing the Gap: Societies may help promote female representation in academic science

The lack of female representation in academic science is a well-known issue, but little is known about how academic societies might help promote gender equity in this field. In a new study from PLOS ONE, Dominique Potvin and colleagues from the University of the Sunshine Coast quantified the ratio of men to women serving on the boards of 202 zoology societies around the world. They compared multiple models for predicting the number of women on a society board, the number of female society presidents, and the presence of women in leadership roles (president, vice president, treasurer and secretary).

The researchers found that the most informative indicator of gender ratio in society boards and leadership positions was a cultural model, which included the age of the society, the size of its board and whether or not it had an outward commitment to or statement of equality. Models that focused on geographic location or study discipline were less informative when it came to gender ratio.

The researchers’ findings suggest that women may be more highly represented in smaller societies with at least one woman in a leadership position. However, at about 30 percent, this representation still falls far short of equal. To promote gender equity within academic societies, researchers recommend a push to increase female leadership and a constitutional commitment to equality, such as a statement of support.

“At present, women hold far fewer society board positions, such as president or vice president, than men – although we find that societies appear to be more gender equal than institutions,” Potvin says. “The culture of a scientific society – the society’s age and focus on inclusivity, for instance – is the biggest predictor of whether or not women hold leadership positions in that society.”

Reference:  Potvin DA, Burdfield-Steel E, Potvin JM, Heap SM (2018) Diversity begets diversity: A global perspective on gender equality in scientific society leadership. PLoS ONE 13(5): e0197280.

Image Credit: Potvin et al (2018)


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at and on Twitter at @tessagregs.

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