Poll: guess the gender balance of N. American EEB seminar series

There is widespread, reasonable concern that, when people just think of potential seminar invitees off the tops of their heads, they tend to think of men. Same goes for thinking of peer reviewers or award nominees; see these posts by Gina Baucom and Meghan for discussion. That concern was the motivation for creating the very handy DiversifyEEB list.

I recently linked to an interesting compilation of data on gender balance of invited speakers in economics. I thought it would be very interesting to compile these data for ecology and evolutionary biology. What is the gender balance of EEB seminar speakers? And how has it changed over time?

I’ve already compiled data answering that question. As usual with my diversity and equity data collection exercises, the hope is to promote diversity and equity by compiling some information on where things currently stand, and how they’ve been changing recently. How much progress has been made in this one small area, and how much more remains to be made? More information is always better than less when it comes to working towards diversity and equity. Data can tell us where the systemic problems are, and whether our efforts to fix those problems are working.

But before I show you the data, I want to know what you think I found. I’m always curious what ecologists know–or think they know!–about diversity and equity in their own field. So please take the two-question poll below.

9 thoughts on “Poll: guess the gender balance of N. American EEB seminar series

  1. Well my department is definitely going to bring your percentage down. I pointed out the pattern to a faculty member, who said they had invited a bunch of women for this semester, but most were too busy.

    • Hmm. Obviously I don’t know any details of your department’s specific situation. But just speaking generally, that sounds to me like a problem that should be addressable by broadening the pool of invitees. Like, don’t just invite super-famous senior women who are indeed really busy. Your seminar organizers could also try sending out invites earlier so that you’re not inviting people who are already booked up. Like, more than a year in advance is definitely fine, especially if you’re trying to book a famous senior person. And if your seminar organizers have just started doing those things but ran into some bad luck this semester, one would expect the problem to be a temporary blip that sorts itself out in future semesters. If it doesn’t turn out to be a blip, well, as you say, that’s a pattern. And a problem.

      • My department does like to invite senior people in general. I suspect many other departments are also this way, based on the number of times my current postdoc advisor has given my name when invited to give a seminar without any follow-up invitation to me. If your data allow, I’d be very interested to see whether gender balance differs by career stage of the speakers.

      • Sorry, I didn’t compile names or seniority of speakers, just genders. So I don’t know whether the gender balance of more senior speakers skews more male, and whether any increasing male skew with increasing seniority can be chalked up solely to more senior EEB profs skewing more male than junior ones.

        My casual anecdotal impressions on this are somewhat mixed. External EEB speakers at institutions with big enough seminar budgets to fly in lots of speakers definitely skew mid-career and senior. But lots of EEB seminar series have a fair number of “local” external speakers and I’m not sure those tend to skew senior. I did see one example of a “eminent ecologist” series from a couple of years ago that was like 12 senior speakers with only one woman. But I also saw a number of smaller “eminent ecologist” seminar series (say, 2-3 speakers per year) that had more gender-balanced mixes of senior ecologists. And while I was compiling the data, I noticed that Judith Bronstein gives a *lot* of external seminars. 🙂

        Here at Calgary, I’m the lead organizer for our annual Darwin Lecture, a big-deal public lecture by a leading (i.e. mid career or senior) evolutionary biologist. It’s been going for 34 years now. It was almost all men for many years, but in recent years we recognized that as a sign that we weren’t thinking broadly enough when thinking about who to invite. So we’ve gotten better, in part by being more willing to invite top mid-career people as well as senior people. You’ll have to wait for the follow-up post to learn whether EEB as a whole has gotten better. 😉

      • One further thought (and it’s definitely not a very original thought…): as my little anecdote about Judith Bronstein giving a *lot* of seminars highlights, famous senior people get a lot of seminar invitations, many of which they decline. Even the ones who give many external seminars likely also decline many other invitations. So if you try to improve the gender balance of your EEB seminar series while continuing to only invite super-famous senior people, well, there’s perhaps a risk that you’ll end up inviting the same few super-famous senior women everybody else invites and so get turned down a lot. One fix for that is to be more willing to invite awesome mid-career people too, not just awesome super-famous senior people.

      • I’m not an ecologist, but also work in a STEM field that’s ~25% women, a fraction that has been increasing at all levels (the decrease at more senior levels is often attributed to a `leaky pipeline’, but all the data I’ve seen finds women and men are equally likely to leak, and it’s rising input level and propagation time up the ladder that creates the effect).

        I organised our seminars the last two years. Between balancing inviting equal numbers of speakers from each person who suggested possible invites, not only inviting people from one nearby, huge (200+ PhDs in our field) institute, and some budgetary concerns that meant I wanted ~1/3rd driving, and most of the rest short flights, there was no space to really consider demographics or anything. But I ended up with 40%~50% of our speakers being women, because I mostly invited postdocs and 4th/5th/6th year students (they need the exposure the most, appreciate the invites the most, and almost always agree, even when there were few slots left in our schedule). So I certainly could believe inviting mostly senior people produces the opposite results.

  2. Pingback: EEB seminar series are almost gender balanced | Dynamic Ecology

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