Speaker Selection Bias

Including at least one woman when planning scientific symposia prompts the selection of more female speakers, a study shows.

Jan 7, 2014
Tracy Vence

FLICKR, RE:GROUPA researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and his collaborator have come up with a simple fix for the common theme of all-male panels at scientific conferences: invite more women to help choose speakers.

In an mBio paper published today (January 7), Einstein’s Arturo Casadevall and Yale University’s Jo Handelsman examined scientific symposia at the annual American Society for Microbiology (ASM) general meetings held between 2011 and 2013. They focused on all-male “convener teams,” the groups of researchers assembled to choose panelists and speakers for an upcoming meeting, plus 112 such teams that included at least one woman. The researchers found that symposia put together by all-male teams resulted in a list of symposia speakers comprised, on average, of 25 percent women, while the latter teams helped organized conferences with an average of 43 percent female speakers per panel. According to a statement from the school, “including at least one woman among the conveners increased the proportion of female speakers by 72 percent compared with symposia convened by men alone.”

“It’s a cascade effect—once you’re a speaker, your work is recognized, and you are more likely to make connections, have your work funded, and to be invited to speak again. And when you speak at a meeting, your reputation at your home institution also improves, and that helps your chances of promotion,” Casadevall said in the statement. “So being an invited speaker at these meetings can definitely help advance your scientific career.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that ASM “has alerted its members of the findings of the study, so that they might consider these issues when putting together speaker selection panels.”

Editor’s note (January 7): This post has been updated with a publication date and a link to the study.