Gender equity: Where will we be in 10 years’ time?

3 women researchers share their thoughts on where progress will take us

By Ian Evans - March 27, 2020  5 mins
Gender report 2020 with experts
Elsevier’s analysis The Research Journey Through a Gender Lens with three of the experts who wrote commentary for the report: Prof. Sarah Sharples, PhD, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nottingham; Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Director and Director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JIST); and Sandra W. Robert, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

Elsevier’s third gender report, The researcher journey through the gender lens: A global examination of research participation, career progression and perceptions, indicates that research is making progress towards gender equity even as there is still work to be done.

The report includes interviews with leading women in research and innovation. Here, three of them share their thoughts on the future of gender diversity and equity in research globally and which organizational and cultural issues will influence change most significantly.

AWIS CEO Sandra W. Robert: “These changes will accelerate diversity and innovation.”

Sandra W. Robert, CAESandra W. Robert, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), believes that the new voices joining the community will help ensure that progress continues:

I believe this is the first era in history that five generations are working together. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire, it will make more space for new people, new voices, and new perspectives to enter the research community. I see that happening within our AWIS membership and we celebrate it. As you know, we have a very strong focus on furthering diversity and inclusion as key considerations in innovation. This generational shift in the research workforce will also be affected by the expansion of new media channels that have not been available previously.

Platforms like Twitter are allowing people to communicate about their research and their perspectives in a personal and direct way. These platforms are giving a voice to people who have been underrepresented in research, bringing down barriers and allowing them to participate in the conversation and shape the future direction of the research community. These changes in the research workforce are happening in a positive, healthy way and will accelerate diversity and innovation.

Miyoko O. Watanabe, Japan Science and Technology Agency: “Many senior men are simply unaware of women’s talent in Japan.”

Miyoko O. Watanabe, PhDDr. Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Director and Director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JIST), emphasized that going forward we need to consider diversity in all its forms, not just gender:

I always say that gender equality is not an isolated problem — it is related to age, race, ability, culture, sexuality and geography, among other factors. If we only talk about gender equality, we lose sight of these connections. We should be promoting gender equality in the context of these other factors, with a focus on diversity, not just gender.

In addition, I feel that many senior men are simply unaware of women’s talent in Japan. This year we launched the 1st Brilliant Female Researchers Award (Jun Ashida Award) for excellent women researchers and institutions promoting women in science. We always wondered why we didn’t have many women researchers applying for funding, but for this award, we had over 100 applicants. Many of us were unaware of these talented women prior to launching this award. We need to continue creating platforms to support and promote women.

Sarah Sharples, University of Nottingham: “It’s going to take more than 10 years.”

Sarah Sharples, PhDProf. Sarah Sharples, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nottingham, highlighted that because the issues are deep seated, it will take time to achieve gender equity:

I think we are heading in the right direction, but it’s going to take more than 10 years to achieve something that looks like gender equity. First, we need to address issues around gender disparity starting at primary and secondary school. For example, children who are exposed to math early and throughout their school years are more likely to feel comfortable engaging a career in engineering. We also need to make sure that women are treated fairly, academically and professionally. We need to work with the research community to find practical ways to make changes that move us toward gender equity. Routine reporting of pay data and routine reflection on that data is incredibly important. It’s not just about paying women more, it’s about how to create a fair pay structure that reduces the gender pay gap.

We are also making significant progress on the ability to discuss topics like gender, care responsibilities, and protected characteristics in research, but there needs to be a conversation about the intersectionality of gender, disability and ethnicity and how these together have more of an impact on successful progression through a research career. Being able to ask for reasonable adjustments — for example, allowing meetings to be joined remotely rather than requiring international travel, or accommodating the changing health care needs of team members — will allow everyone to do their best.

Finally, while we are making progress in these conversations, we also need to recognize that there is still resistance to gender diversity and equity, primarily because of a lack of knowledge. This report is incredibly useful for increasing knowledge in a non-threatening, data-driven way. Overall, I am hopeful, but there is still an awful lot of work to do. We recognize the enormity of the task and the role we can all play in enabling everyone to participate and bring diverse ideas together to strengthen research.

Related resources

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Ian Evans\
Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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