A three-day conference that features two days of talks given only by women scientists kicks off today (February 26) at the University of California, San Diego. The line-up was intentionally designed to highlight the work of women.
“We have decided to demonstrate that it is possible to have a large representation of women presenters in a scientific meeting by inviting only women speakers,” an announcement about the event on a university website says.
Gender imbalance at conferences has become a pressing issue with some male scientists declining opportunities because of the lack of women speakers.
Not everyone is happy with the decision to have an all-female slate of speakers. A Wall Street Journal opinion piece argues that a “ban on male presenters” violates the University of California, San Diego’s (UCSD’s) student code of conduct, which prohibits “conduct (e.g. harassment) that is so severe and/or pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so substantially impairs a person’s access to University programs or activities that the person is effectively denied equal access to the University’s resources and opportunities.”
UCSD said yesterday (February 25) that it was not trying to discriminate against men by allowing an all-women line-up for two days of the event, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The goal was instead to feature women’s scientific work.
Following criticism, UCSD’s Center for Microbiome Innovation, which is hosting the event, removed the lines about inviting only women speakers from its description of the conference, according to a blog by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which reemphasizes the Wall Street Journal opinion’s suggestion that choosing to focus on women’s research is “overt discrimination on the basis of sex.” The opinion piece goes on to cite a gender gap in the number of college degrees awarded to women versus men, originally reported by AEI, yet fails to acknowledge the gender bias that favors men among speakers at scientific conferences.
The all-female line-up for the final two days has not changed, according to the conference schedule.
“I am gratified that many people who have not previously been concerned with gender representation issues in scientific conferences are apparently concerned now,” Rob Knight, a UCSD microbiome expert tells the Union-Tribune. “We are glad that the event is drawing attention to these issues.”