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Women Participate less than Men even at Gender-Balanced Conferences

Women are less likely to participate at medical and scientific conferences than men, even within gender-balanced groups of delegates, a study published in The Lancet has found (

Dr Victoria Salem, an endocrinologist and senior research clinical fellow at Imperial College London, along with her colleagues, analysed the questions and comments from sessions conducted at the Society for Endocrinology conferences in 2017 and 2018. Attended by around 1,000 delegates each year, roughly half of attendees were women.

Despite the apparent delegate gender balance, the study found that women asked fewer, and shorter, questions at the 2017 conference – only one in five questions or comments came from women.

But in 2018, the researchers worked with the conference organisers to ensure there were more sessions held with at a woman in the chair’s position – and found that more female chairs resulted in an increase in female audience questions. Also, if a woman was the first to ask a question in a session, that increased the chances by several times of subsequent audience contributions from women.

“There’s a lot of talk about women needing to ‘lean in’, but actually … we’ve kind of created the scientific culture that might make it more difficult for them to participate,” said senior author Kevin Murphy, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Imperial College London.

Salem added: “There are still clear differences in male and female behaviour. Whatever the cause, whether it’s social engineering or biology, we need to somehow address that and take that into account when we are delivering platforms that are about equal access to science.”

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