Some Thoughts on Gender Bias in Physics


Out of about 50 people who attended the physics colloquium (at Columbia University) today, four were women. Note that this is less than the number of women in physics (roughly ~20% in total). This is not the first time I observe this and probably not the last time. So although I have had several discussions about gender bias in physics with colleagues and friends before, it is worth to think about it more deeply and keep discussing among ourselves why even less percentage of women attend talks and related community activities. I can think of a couple of reasons:

  • Some women I know in our department have to go earlier than the regular time of the talks to pick up their kids from day care or school. Naturally this should also apply to men with kids, but is there still a bias on this?

  • Women with kids have to be more productive during working hours since at home they are dealing with family so they do not have time to participate in talks. Again I think this naturally should apply to men as well. The only case that I can think of that women should work more densely to make up is for the time they spend related to their pregnancy.

  • A couple of female students I have recently encountered with felt intimidated in male-dominated scientific environments. So maybe less female students attend the talks so male students outnumber the expectations. Of course not showing up in an already male-dominated society does not help resolve this issue. So seems like to me that we have to talk to our students more about it and encourage them to participate more strongly (and I have already started doing so in my classes).

I am very interested to know your opinions, experiences, and thoughts on this.

P.S. The astronomy department at Columbia, interestingly, has an equal populations of female and male students. I think it is still less number of women faculties. I will do a bit more research on the astro department seminar attendance and will discuss that in a future post.