Panel politics

When women help choose the speakers, more women speak.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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How can science organizations get more women to speak at their conventions? Two scientists put their own group under the microscope and came up with a possible answer: more women choosing speakers.

Microbiologists Jo Handelsman of Yale and Arturo Casadevall of Yeshiva University examined the last three years’ worth of major meetings of the American Society for Microbiology, or ASM. (ASM published their findings in its journal mBio.) Analyzing 460 symposia with 1,845 speakers, they found startling results: sessions whose organizers included at least one woman had about 73 percent more female speakers than sessions put together by men only.

What’s more, when women helped assemble the group, the frequency of all-male speaker panels dropped from 30 percent to about 9 percent. That matters because “all-male rosters send a subtle message, especially to junior scientists, that a field has few women,” Casadevall and Handelsman write.

Their research doesn’t explain the reason for the “highly significant correlation” between having women choose the speakers and having women speak. So the scientists propose another research project: “an experiment in which at least one woman is included in every team of conveners.” Handelsman, who was nominated last summer for a position in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, declined an interview request because she was awaiting Senate confirmation.

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