Women in science ask fewer questions than men: study

Women in science ask fewer questions than men: study

 Women ask fewer questions than men in the field of science, according to a study which suggests that female scientists may either be under confident to speak up or simply do not feel the need to ask questions.

Researchers from Oxford University and Cambridge University in the UK studied question-asking behaviour at a large international conference.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, observed 31 sessions across a four day conference, counting how many questions were asked and whether men or women were asking them.

Accounting for the number of men and women in the audience, researchers found that male attendees asked 80 per cent more questions than female attendees.
The same pattern was also found in younger researchers, suggesting that it is not simply due to senior researchers, a large proportion of whom are men, asking all of the questions.

The team noted that the recognised and ongoing issues of gender inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields (STEM) and the wider world may be affecting female scientists' confidence and willingness to speak publicly.

Another interpretation may be that women are more assured in their expertise and do not feel the need to ask as many questions, researchers said.

However, asking questions at conferences is a visible activity that may increase the profile of the questioners.

Therefore, regardless of the reason for the gender differences, the fact they exist may be another factor in favour of men in the competitive academic arena, they said.

The study includes a reputational model that evaluates the factors that affect professional standing within the scientific community.

"If women feel that they are low status, and have suffered discrimination and bias throughout their career then they may be less likely to participate in public discussions, which will in turn affect their scientific reputation," said Amy Hinsley, postdoctoral researcher at University of Oxford.

"This negative feedback loop can affect women and men, but the evidence in this study suggests that women are affected more," Hinsley added.

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