Nick Brake – Director Science Impact
Consistently, the quality of research carried out around the world is linked to more than just one element; funding, access to talent, and comprehensive legislative support all factor into cutting-edge research and development. A frontier which touches on all of these issues is that of gender equality, especially in world-leading STEM industries.
More and more, we’re seeing councils and advisory boards respond to calls for parity between the sexes with the inclusion of a gender dimension linked to research excellence. The Horizon 2020 initiative is just one scheme which will put the inclusion of this vital dimension to the fore; results-based outcomes show an improvement of intensity and quality of innovation around the world when it is considered.
To start, we can look to the direct effect this dimension has on research results. Conclusions which take into account the difference between the sexes is likely to be more valid according to the Irish Research Council, which argues that using labels like ‘user’ in studies fail to face the differences between women and men and that a more complete and accurate conclusion can be made of findings if a gender dimension is included. This is something which can be seen from medical research to the study of economic migrants across the world and translates into more effective outcomes when research is implemented.
Gender inequality at the research level also impacts the type of research that is undertaken; if funding boards are unbalanced then non-conscious bias can enter into key decision making about which projects to fund, according to the Global Research Council, and that at a research team level, hypothesis may be fielded that draw on relevant experience and tackle a universal problem if gender is considered and there is gender parity in researcher numbers.
For those projects and research frameworks which aim to replicate an in vitro finding in the real world, failing to consider a gender dimension will limit the representation of reality and may skew results. This is true especially when considerations are made for the implementation of research methods or the approach a research team will take in order to question a hypothesis.
Meta-surveys that purport to show a cross section of public opinion about an issue, for instance, those which look at the rates of smoking, may suffer bias if gender is not taken into account when setting the parameters for study. When surveys are taken, where, and in what manner they are executed must always take into account how representative the sample is of a general populous, and can fall down if men and women are not treated as equal subjects.
This is an issue which extends beyond the data gathering stage and continues to plague results when the analysis is applied to any data collected; be that from a medical study or one which aims to identify demographic trends. By appreciating the role gender may influence social mobility, income, or labour, research teams are likely to have a better understanding of results on a practical level.
Londa Schiebinger works for Stanford University in the USA and points to prescription drugs taken off the market as an example of how gender dimension is not an issue that can be considered in the abstract, but one which has real-world consequences, especially for research.
Two of those removed between 1997 and 2000 were antihistaminic drugs that had the potential to irreparably damage the regularity of the heartbeat of patients, which may have been avoided had the fact that heart muscle contraction rates differ between men and women. It is a matter of ethics to ensure research activity does not harm patients, and the inherent inclusion of a gender dimension is a step that helps ensure sufficient analysis.
Research is just one aspect of STEM which would benefit from a gender dimensional outlook, with the conversation about the inclusion of women in both academia and the industry extending far beyond appropriate representation on advisory boards, to the minutia of research approaches, the application of findings, and validity of conclusions drawn.
This post was first posted on LinkedIn by Nick Brake Director of Science Impact.
If you want to help advance the debate on gender equality in STEM, are interested in just how the inclusions of a gender dimension could help you research team in the future, or would like to find out more about gender parity in the industry, then visit www.stemgenderequality.com and buy your tickets to the STEM Gender Equality Congress 2017 in Berlin, use discount code ‘HODOS10’ to claim 10% off your tickets.
Irish Research Council 2016 ‘Annex C) GUIDANCE ON THE SEX-GENDER DIMENSION IN RESEARCH CONTENT’
Science, 2014 ‘Adding Sex-and-Gender Dimensions to Your Research by Tania Rabesandratana’