Quota system not right path to gender equality in research, say women scientists

Quota system not right path to gender equality in research, say women scientists
  • Women make up just 33% of scientific researchers globally
  • Women should not accept hiring based on filling quotas, researchers say
  • Demand for women researchers is high in commercialisation

Women are underrepresented in senior academic research positions and women researchers should avoid hiring merely for the sake of gender balance, revealed delegates at an international women’s conference held at the University of Sharjah in the UAE. 

Globally, women make up 33.3% of researchers (in head counts), according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics for 107 countries.

Female representation featured high on the agenda at the fourth Forum of Women in Research, with internationally renowned female scientists at the event emphasising the need for gender balance in scientific research.

The annual gathering investigated the state of women researchers and women academics globally, and explored ways to empower women to climb the career ladder in research.

Delegates at the forum lamented what they said was the low percentage of women researchers in proportion to men. 

Global percentage of scientific researchers by gender

percentage of scientific researchers by gender
Source: UNESCO Graph: NADJA

To bring about gender balance, women should not accept hiring merely for the sake of bridging the gender gap.

Dr. Nadia M. Alhasani, Dean of the College of Fine Arts & Design at the University of Sharjah, said women scientists would rather stay jobless than become a number in efforts to bring about gender equality. “We may need for somebody to open the door for us, but we need to enter at our own merit, and stay at our own merit.” 

“Having more female viewpoints and scientific perspectives enhances the quality of research,” said Iman Ben Chaibah, Head of Community Engagement at Sheraa.

She cited a Boston Consulting Group report stating that women’s equal participation as entrepreneurs could boost the economy by up to $5 trillion.

Dr. Jackie Yi-Ru Ying, Executive Director at Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, was the first female Asian professor to teach engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She said the “sad reality” of being part of a minority group and a woman was that she felt the need to prove herself. “It was very clear from the beginning, I had to work twice as hard, if not harder,” she said.

Percentage of female scientific researchers by region

Percentage of female scientific researchers by region
Source: UNESCO Graph: NADJA

Another topic of interest was the issue of university ranking and how academics are currently more focused on the quantity of the research papers they produce rather than quality, in order to secure top spots for their institutions in global ranking.

Dr. Ying criticised universities for their focus on rankings and number of research papers instead of thinking of the potential impact, relevance, and practical implications of their research. “Sometimes you do research, which is a step forward, and other times it’s a major leap forward,” she said.

Dr. Sarah Qureshi is the CEO of AeroEngine Craft. A co-inventor of a contrail-free aero-engine designed to reduce aviation-induced global warming for which she holds two international patents, Qureshi advised women researchers to focus on quality rather than quantity and work hard to earn new patents.

She said there were employment avenues other than academia and cited commercialisation and entrepreneurship as the two professions where demand for women researchers is high.

Ifath Arwah


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