Why are women turning down opportunities to present their scientific work at international meetings? A study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology uncovered a lower representation of female scientists at the annual European Society for Evolutionary Biology meeting in 2011. The numbers of women were lower in the category of all presenters (48%)(including posters) and regular oral presentations (41%). However, only 25% of plenary speakers were women. But this disparity isn’t because women weren’t asked to present.
It turns out that 50% of women asked to deliver a plenary talk declined the opportunity as compared to 26% of men. Why is this happening? I find it hard to believe that women in general just don’t like to give talks at meetings. Is a concern about a tight budget environment keeping women from international travel? You would expect to see those effects in male recipients of invitations as well. Does it come down to women feeling the need to stay in the lab and prove themselves through productivity at the expense of international exposure? Do these women have children they feel they cannot leave for a week’s trip to Europe? The timing of the meeting coincides with the beginning of the school year in many areas of the US; are women concerned about getting their kids off to school? Were these women invited with enough time to make arrangements and plans to facilitate their travel? Or is this a secondary effect of the gender difference in grant funding?
Whatever the reason, some effort must be made to ensure female representation at international meetings in all fields. Young female scientists need to see and meet women they can look up to at meetings to establish networks of support.