Dr. Hannah Dugdale, University of Sheffield – Women and Academic Conferences

Jul 30, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Hannah Dugdale of the University of Sheffield explores the underrepresentation of women as presenters at top-tier academic conferences. 

Hannah Dugdale is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield where her research interests include the evolution of social behavior, sexual selection and mate choice, and the evolution of personalities. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford.

About Dr. Dugdale

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Dr. Hannah Dugdale – Women and Academic Conferences

At the prestigious European Society for Evolutionary Biology congress in 2011, my colleague Dr Julia Schroeder, from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, asked me: Why are there so few women invited speakers?

Now, it’s well documented that there are more men in senior scientific academic roles, as women drop-out of science at higher rates then men; a term coined the ‘leaky pipeline’. However, even after accounting for this ‘leaky pipeline’, we realised that women were under-represented.

In fact just 15% of the invited speakers were women, comparable to 16% over the last six congresses, so it was not a one-off event. Accounting for the ‘leaky pipeline’, we expect 20 women invited speakers, yet there were only 10.

So, why is this? To find out, we wrote to the organisers. They were all extremely helpful and provided data on the number and gender of speakers that they had invited, and that declined their invitation. Reassuringly there was no gender bias in their invitations, however 50% of women declined invitations, compared to just 26% of men.

Invited talks put leading high-quality scientists in the spotlight, increasing the visibility of their work. If women are under-represented in this category, congress attendees are exposed to fewer female role models. This could constrain the field of evolutionary biology from reaching its full potential. It is therefore important that scientists and students are aware of this phenomenon and that measures based on sound data are implemented to address this bias.


Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.