The Royal Society: promoting women in science (more data)

November 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today I’m off to hear Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, give the Erasmus Darwin Memorial Lecture. It should be fascinating.

However, as I probably won’t get to ask about women in science, and the Society’s campaign to promote women scientists (see also Wired on the topic), I’ve decided to post some relevant data here.

Below are three graphs

The first graph (left) shows the number of men (blue) and women (red) elected every year from when women were first allowed to join. As you see, the numbers of male Fellows grew rapidly after the Second World War, and then steadied. The number of female Fellows, after some early years’ tokenism, began to grow only much later, in the 1990s.


These raw numbers don’t take into account the fact that the Royal Society nearly tripled in size between 1945 and 2010. This isn’t just because of more people being elected, it’s also because they have been living longer, as membership is granted for life.

So, the middle graph shows the numbers of men and women as a proportion of the overall number of Fellows in the Society, grouped by decade to show a clearer picture. It confirms that the proportion of men has been dropping most noticeably since the 1990s, as more women have been elected. After an initial surge, not much happened for the ladies during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Since then, though, things have been improving.


To show the trends clearly, the middle graph has two different scales on its vertical axes. This allows easy comparison of how gender proportions are changing, but it hides the real magnitude of the gender difference. So the third graph (right) plots the proportions on identical scales. Yes, that red line crawling wearily along the bottom is for females.


Between 1945 and 2010, 2512 men (about 95%) and 129 women (about 5%) have been elected.

Between 2010 and 2010, though, 451 men (about 90%) and 50 women (about 10%) have been elected.

So if you’re keen on working towards a less unequal gender balance at the top levels of science, this particular leading organisation appears to be heading in the right direction. But there’s still a VERY long way to go.


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