In the US, March is Women’s History Month, a time for celebrating the key part women have played in American history, and globally, March 8 was International Women’s Day, a day to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” The theme for #IWD2022 is #BreakTheBias, a call to action and a stark reminder that while it is important to celebrate the progress that has been made on the path to gender equity, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
Major League Baseball serves as a microcosmic example of the problems facing society when it comes to gender equity. Though there has been progress toward equality in baseball recently (MLB scored a C for gender hiring in the 2021 Racial and Gender Report Card from the University of Central Florida [up from an F in 2020]), most notably with the hiring of Kim Ng by the Miami Marlins as the first female general manager in baseball, there remains a long way to go. And certainly, as baseball finds itself on the verge of having to cancel another batch of regular-season games due to a continuing labor dispute, it has escaped no one’s attention that the most active and visible people involved in negotiations on both the MLB and MLBPA sides are all men, and things have gone horribly.
In STEM fields, the stakes are higher and contributions by women have been overlooked throughout history. The lack of scientific innovation has real consequences and leads to missed opportunities for advancement in crucial areas. The climb toward gender equity in STEM is a work in progress, but barriers persist and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Instead of having the best minds working on solving the biggest problems facing the world, such as the climate crisis, we’ve spent too much time with one hand tied behind our collective back by making it unnecessarily and irrationally difficult for women to contribute.
Scholarly and scientific publishing are not immune to gender inequity, with biases endemic in their editorial infrastructures and reflected in their ranks of authors, reviewers, and editors. Recent studies have found clear disparities on the editorial boards of journals in psychology and neuroscience as well as chemistry. A study published last month in the Journal of Information Science found no significant difference in publication rates by gender over the course of the pandemic overall, but the evidence points to gender bias being still quite prevalent in certain fields.
As Jennifer Tour Chayes noted recently, “addressing the gender disparity in STEM isn’t just a question of striving for a fairer society, it’s also fundamental to solving the complex challenges that affect us all.” Scientific advancement springs from the minds of creative, innovative, and doggedly determined people. By not having equal support, training, funding, and hiring opportunities available for women, we are missing out on finding the best and the brightest among all of us – this is not only wrong and unfair, it’s harmful.