A global database of women scientists is diversifying the face of science

By | April 23, 2019

Underrepresentation of women scientists in the public sphere perpetuates the stereotype of the white male scientist and fails both to reflect the true diversity of people practicing science today and to encourage more diversity. In a new article publishing April 23 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, Dr. Elizabeth McCullagh and colleagues from the grassroots organization 500 Women Scientists, describe the first year of a database they founded in January 2018 to combat this issue. The database — called Request a Woman Scientist — is a public register of women scientists categorized by discipline and geographic region, as well as other self-identifying dimensions.

In under a year, more than 7,500 women from 174 scientific disciplines and 133 countries voluntarily signed up, expressing a willingness to share their science. These volunteers indicated interest in participating in panels, public outreach, and interactions with the media. The biological sciences and the USA are best represented in the database, but targeted outreach is planned to improve the representation of women from other disciplines and regions.

To understand how the register has been utilized, 500 Women Scientists sent an electronic survey to women on the register in November 2018. Of 1,278 respondents, 150 women (11%) had been contacted for a range of reasons, including media requests for expert comment, conference participation, and educational outreach. This is likely an underestimate of how many women are being contacted since the database has been accessed more than 100,000 times. Guided by input from database users, we are now working to improve the functionality of the online database, focusing on improving user experience, and ensuring that the database can continue to grow and meet the demand for women scientists and their expertise. The scope of the database is also being expanded to include the medical sciences.

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