“Why Are There So Few Women Mathematicians?”

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The Story

“Why Are There So Few Women Mathematicians?”
by Jane C. Hu
The Atlantic, November 4, 2016

The Pitch

Hi Ross,

As soon as mathematician Chad Topaz ripped the plastic off his copy of the American Mathematical Society’s magazine Notices, he was disappointed. Staring back at him were the faces of 13 fellow mathematicians – all of them men, and the majority of them white.

Topaz, a professor at Macalester College, knew that his field had a gender problem. In mathematics, just 15% of tenure-track positions are held by women. Loads of recent research has shed light on how women are underrepresented in top labs and university research faculty — but Topaz was determined to understand the finer-grained details of what could be driving these disparities. So Topaz and colleague Shilad Sen decided to look at a new metric of academic success: the editorial boards of academic journals.

According to Topaz and Sen’s analysis, just under 9% of math journal editorial positions are held by women. Their research, published in PLOS One, analyzed the editorial boards of 435 math journals. I’d like to propose a piece on how why this duo undertook their analysis, and what the gender imbalance in academic journal editorial boards tells us about the under representation of women in science. Editorial positions are an especially important role for scientists; editors are the gatekeepers of research, deciding which papers get published, which, in turn, sets the tone for the field about which areas of research are worthy of study. Furthermore, serving on editorial boards is an important networking and professional development opportunity for researchers. Being left out of these opportunities can affect female researchers’ careers.

I’m in touch with the researchers, and I’ve previously written on studies investigating gender disparity in the sciences, as well as on the culture of academia in general (including a piece for the Atlantic earlier this year). You can find links to my other work at janehu.net.  Happy to elaborate on any of this or any answer any questions you may have — thanks for considering!


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