Female engineers are published in better journals but they’re cited less

This study is a positive/negative sandwich

It’s fairly widely accepted that STEM fields have an unequal participation problem when it comes to gender. It’s not, however, a problem that every field faces with equal severity, though preferably it would be a problem none of them faced at all. There are differences in the degrees of gender inequality depending on which field you look into though what’s not clear is how these problems arise. Now we have some numbers to help us see the extent of the problem in the engineering sector thanks to a study led by Gita Ghiasi, a student at Concordia University in Canada finishing up her Ph.D in engineering. Her study found a paradoxical trend: though female engineers are being published in more prestigious journals than their male counterparts, what they’re publishing is receiving less citations.

This study used data drawn from Web of Science – Thomson Reuter’s massive database of scholarly publications – taking 679,338 engineering articles published from 2008 to 2013 with 974,837 authorships. Gender was assigned to the authors using databases of male and female first names, the journals were separated into their various engineering subfields using the designations given to them by the National Science Foundation, and journal prestige was decided by Web Science’s determination of their ‘Impact Factor.’

What the results found wasn’t exactly massively encouraging. Women only make up 20% of authors across the papers. Though there was the positive that the work of these female authors is around 2% more often published in journals considered more prestigious, despite this it was found that their work is around 3% less frequently cited and therefore recognised less often. Though these differences seem small, this is a study which has taken massive amounts of data into consideration, meaning they’re differences that are statistically solid enough that they shouldn’t be waved away as some outlying numbers gone awry; they’re proof that a gender disparity continues to exist, though it is promising that women are being so frequently published in prestigious journals.

The paper doesn’t attempt to try and explain the reason behind the gap, that’s a mix of societal, academic, and workplace norms that it’s incredibly difficult to pin down and pick apart, but it does try to offer an idea on a way forward: increased collaboration. The study found that when it comes to collaboration, the dynamic is overwhelmingly male-male or male-female across all of the engineering subfields leading Ghiasi to state that “engineers—regardless of their gender—contribute to the reproduction of the male-dominated scientific structures through forming and repeating their collaborations predominantly with men.”

This isn’t the first time that a gender gap in collaboration has been found in a study. They suggest that if women were to collaborate with one another as often as they do with men, the gap may close, though we imagine this is hard to do when you consider the fact that men dominate the authorship space by being 80% of the available authorship for collaboration. Gender inequality in engineering won’t be solved by engineers alone, many negative established societal problems will have to be overcome, but increased female collaboration and helping one another on the inside would be a good start.

Images via PLOS

Main Image via Geber86