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Beyond the Numbers on Gender and Research

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Gender diversity in the sciences is often discussed in terms of numbers: build research teams with more women on them and innovation will come. That may be true; research suggests it probably is. But a new paper seeks to push science’s gender diversity conversation beyond just composition of teams, to research methods and research questions -- along with how to manage each in different disciplinary and organizational settings. It also suggests that in paying more attention to research methods and questions, research teams might diversify as a result.

“To realize its full potential, gender diversity needs to be supported by careful stewardship and management techniques across four interdependent domains -- from research teams to the broader disciplines in which they are embedded to research organizations and ultimately to the larger societies that shape them through specific gender norms and policies,” reads the study, published in Nature: Human Behavior. “Understanding how these domains interact -- i.e., how policies and practices in one domain shape developments in the other domains -- is crucial to maximizing the benefits of diversity for science.”

Londa Schiebinger, John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University, and the paper’s senior author, said this week that “we in North America and Western Europe have not been entirely successful increasing the numbers of women in science, despite our many efforts.” And one reason for that is the limited focus on issues of participation, she said, at the expense of considering “how science is done.”

Speaking for herself and her colleagues, Schiebinger said it’s “our hypothesis that attending to diversity in research methods and diversity in questions asked may also lead to greater diversity in research teams.”