Only 12% of science academy members globally are women

The first comprehensive global survey of science academies and gender has found that only 12% of the members of 69 national science academies are women – and just 6% in maths and 5% in engineering. It recommends data collection and reporting on gender, and permanent structures to implement gender-mainstreaming activities.

In 30 out of 69 academies, the share of women members was 10% or less. So despite efforts to promote the role of women in science, women’s representation and participation in national science academies globally remains “insignificant”, the survey finds.

The national academies with the largest shares of women members are the Cuban Academy of Sciences (27%) and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (26%).

They are followed in the top 10 by academies in the Czech Republic and South Africa (both 24%), Mexico and Nicaragua (both 23%), Peru (20%), Uruguay (19%), and Sri Lanka and Latvia (both 18%). The three lowest, with only 8% of women members, are in Spain, France and Pakistan.

The report, Women for Science: Inclusion and participation in academies of science, was released last Monday during a conference on ‘Science Advice’ and the general assembly of the Global Network of Science Academies or IAP, held from 28 February to 2 March in Hermanus, South Africa.

The IAP conference was hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa, which published the report.

The new InterAcademy Partnership was also launched last week at the IAP general assembly. It is an umbrella body bringing together the IAP, the InterAcademy Medical Panel and the InterAcademy Council.

The survey

The IAP is a global network of the world's science academies. It was launched in 1993 to help member academies work together to advise citizens and public officials on the scientific aspects of critical global issues.

The report documents the results of a survey of member academies of the IAP “to ascertain the inclusion and participation of women scientists”. It incorporates two related surveys that probed academy membership and women’s participation in their governance structures, disciplinary breakdowns in membership and the involvement of women in other activities.

The InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences, or IANAS, conducted a survey of its 19 member academies covering North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The Academy of Science of South Africa, or ASSAf, conducted a survey of IAP member academies in the other world regions.

“The combined surveys generated 72 useable questionnaires: 69 from the national science academies and three from the global science academies. This corresponds to a response rate of 63% for the national science academies,” the report says.

The three global science academies are the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Art and Science and the World Academy of Sciences.

More findings

Women are ‘best’ represented in the social sciences, humanities and arts – 16% across all science academies – followed by biological sciences (15%) and medical and health sciences (14%). Their representation is least in mathematical sciences (6%) and engineering sciences (5%). Figures for the three global science academies show a similar picture.

The study found that women were better represented on academy governing bodies (20%) than in academy memberships (12%).

Three academies had the best representation of women on the governing body, at 47% – the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, and the academies in Switzerland and Sweden. Also worth mentioning, the report says, are the Netherlands (43%), Cuba and the United Kingdom (both 40%), Canada and Panama (both 38%) and Ireland (36%).

Of 53 national academies surveyed by ASSAf, 17% reported that either their current or previous president or chair was a woman.

Supporting greater participation

The ASSAf survey asked whether the academy had any document that explicitly mentioned the need for increased participation by women in its activities. A similar question was asked in the IANAS survey, where the focus was on whether the academy had a gender policy. “Of the 68 academies that answered either question, 27 (40%) responded in the affirmative.”

In the ASSAf survey, 26% out of 50 academies said they had one or more initiatives on ‘Women in Science’. The focus seemed to be on incentives to attract girls and young women to science careers, and ensure their continued participation in the science enterprise. Also, the ASSAf survey found that 23% out of 53 national academies host a ‘women in science’ award.

“Only 17% of academies in the ASSAf survey strongly agreed that they had increased their numbers of women scientists in the nomination pool for membership,” the report says.

About two-thirds of respondents agreed that their national academy had made some progress in promoting more women to decision-making levels (67%), including more women in panels and committees (65%) and in the academy’s portrayal of science to the public (65%). Just over half agreed that there were more women in the nomination pool for prizes.

In the IANAS survey, 12 academies said that they had evidence-based panels and especially committees in which women participated. Five said they had women chairing committees.

“For those national academies that also sponsor and evaluate research, the gender implications of such activities seem to be largely neglected. Only 38% and 28% of academies, respectively, reported sensitivity to the gender implications of their sponsored research and research evaluations,” the report says.

It goes on to say that a key proposal of the InterAcademy Council report of 2006 was for a gender-balanced committee to address gender and diversity issues, or at least someone to advise the academy. But 61% of 51 academies in the ASSAf survey did not have either. A third of academies had a dedicated committee while 6% relied on the input of individuals.


The report recommends that IAP member academies annually collect, analyse – and publish in annual reports – gender-disaggregated data on their membership and activities, and that the IAP annual report also outlines the gender dimensions of its internal activities.

“IAP member academies should establish permanent organisational structures that provide strategic direction and implement the academy’s gender-mainstreaming activities,” says the report.

It suggests that gender committees be created to: coordinate data collection; provide strategic advice on including more women; ensure measures to increase women’s participation in academy advisory activities; promote gender equality in science, technology and innovation; engage in partnerships that support gender equality and mainstreaming; advocate research into women’s participation; and propose policy analyses where gender is a key variable.

The report points out that while “great strides” have been made in enrolling more women in undergraduate courses, there remain “significant challenges in ensuring that the best women scientists are able to have fulfilling careers with increasing levels of responsibility, eventually taking up leadership and decision-making positions”.