According to a recent analysis by Fortune, women scientists pursuing their field’s top prizes have one major obstacle to overcome that their male peers do not: gender bias.
Of the 870 individuals and 23 organizations awarded the Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901, women have received the award just 49 times, compared to men who have been honored 825 times in the prize’s history. The gender gap is widest in the fields of physics, chemistry and medicine with only 1 percent, 2.33 percent, and 5.71 percent awarded to women respectively over 114 years. This year alone, seven men won Nobel Prizes for their contributions to physics (2 recipients), chemistry (3 recipients), medicine (2 recipients) while only one woman – Tu Youyou and her work in treating malaria – recognized in medicine.
Fortune‘s findings are disappointing, but not surprising. A 2012 study showed science professors in universities nationwide regarded their female undergraduate students as less competent than their male counterparts, despite demonstrating the same skills and achievements, a perception which limits job and mentorship opportunities for the women. Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report revealing women scientists receive less early-career funding than men, affecting their ability to build labs, conduct analyses, publish findings and procure grants for future research. Without equal access to the vital resources necessary to achieving their professional goals, women scientists are more unlikely to have a career in their chosen field, much less receive recognition for it.
Fortunately, the numbers of women winning world’s top prizes for innovation are increasing every year, though modestly. Between 2000 and 2015, women received 19 Nobel Prizes, up from 11 between 1981 and 2000 and 5 between 1961 and 1980. For Göran Hansson, secretary for the committee for the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, the growth is “not impressive,” but is nonetheless an improvement. “I looked at prize statistics for medicine, and in the last 30 years, we had eight laureates,” said Hansson. “In the last 10 years, we had four, so clearly an increasing proportion, which reflects that more women are going into the sciences and making fantastic careers.”
Media Resources: Fortune 10/12/15;