The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Women in Physics

How can we get more women into physics?

Physicists from 50+ countries have called for physics leaders to take action against extreme gender inequality.

They met online in July at the 7th Conference on Women in Physics (11 to 16 July 2021), organised by IUPAP, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physicists.

More from the conference:

Visit the website: ICWIP 2021

Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale: “In big conferences, there are very few black women.”

Professor Mmantsae Moche Diale is a senior physicist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. All too often, she recalls, walking into an unfamiliar laboratory was an experience that sheeted home the gender disparity that pervades her profession.

“If there was equipment that I hadn’t encountered before, I would ask others how to use it,” she says.

“The men in the laboratory would usually just hand me the manual to read. If a man asked the same question, they would happily and quickly explain and demonstrate.”

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Dr Anisa Qamar: “I was the only woman in the physics faculty.”

Dr Anisa Qamar is a professor of plasma physics at Peshawar University in Pakistan. 

“I was born in a small village in the north of Pakistan where cultural stereotypes mean females are not allowed to go to school,” she says.

“My parents were well-educated and held education to be a priority, regardless of gender. Indeed, my father built the first female school in the village, but the social pressure was still there.”

She and her parents, she recalled, faced this pressure “boldly”. Her father ensured she received both primary and college education, and played an active role in supporting her admission to university. She was also helped and encouraged by a family friend, Zari Sarfaraz (1923-2008), a noted campaigner for the rights of women in Pakistan.

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Professor Prajval Shastri: “Such bad mentoring has no consequences.”

Professor Prajval Shastri, astrophysicist and adjunct professor at Australia’s International Centre for Radioastronomy Research (ICRAR), is often confounded by the advice senior physicists, mostly men but also women, sometimes provide to aspiring women.

“I constantly encounter colleagues who mentor young men to ‘stick to your passion and press on’, but to women they say, ‘you need to work hard to be in physics because you will have to manage both family and research’,” she says.

“Are they implying that men of future generations will continue to abdicate their life responsibilities at the expense of the women in their families?

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Draft Recommendations from the 7th IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics

IUPAP Conferences

  • Endorsement & Funding to conferences should be contingent on an anonymised review process for selecting contributed abstracts to the conference
  • Endorsement & Funding to conferences should be contingent on a plenary session on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion which should be embedded within the schedule and include expertise from the social sciences on intersectionality.  
  • Conferences or sessions for undergraduate students which should include sessions on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in order to foster inclusive thinking in the next generation
  • Demographics of speakers/chairs/attendees should be reported with an intersectionality lens and be available to attendees
  • Accessibility: IUPAP to sponsor accessible conferences, noting digital divide

IUPAP Members

  • Encourage IUPAP members to organize workshops to provide skills on entrepreneurship and innovation. 
  • Mentor, network, sponsor:  IUPAP calls on Members to facilitate Mentorship of women in physics at all levels
  • Represent: IUPAP calls on Members and Liaisons to provide opportunities for women in physics to have leadership roles
  • Systemic changes: IUPAP calls on Members to provide support and commitment to gender parity
  • Safe and welcoming environment: IUPAP calls on Members to implement code of conduct with zero tolerance for discrimination

IUPAP Processes

  • The Award nominations process should include certification that there are no known issues  of scientific misconduct or harassment for its awards.   Create mechanisms for revoking such honors if something is revealed later
  • support networking through requiring country liaison to be active and available to WiP working groups in their country
  • IUPAP to give some priority to physics education for females in their policies and projects.

Raise Awareness

  • Increase awareness of IUPAP amongst physics educators so that IUPAP’s programs gain traction and becomes visible to future generations.
  • Show what a physicist is: IUPAP to raise awareness of the roles of women in physics 
  • Discussion of mental health issues should be normalised
  • Increase awareness of imposter syndrome and bias by developing and delivering workshops for academics through conferences. The workshops should provide tips and strategies for countering these, go beyond theory..

Data and Metrics

  • Organize the gathering of and providing guidance on the quality of data, not restricted to only quantitative, for measuring research output which is fairer to females.
  • Consider ways in which metrics can be developed for parameters associated with teaching and its evaluation with an eye on the fact that females are more likely to receive inappropriate/irrelevant feedback and critique.
  • Set up a working group to consider reinvigorating the curriculum and the teaching of physics with the objective of providing a contemporary and ‘balanced’ physics education.  
  • Provide guidance on collecting, analysing, reporting, and storing data on the people of physics, to include: Principles which can be adapted to meet the needs of local communities; Prioritising and centering marginalised groups; and Paying attention to intersectionality of identities, such as indigenous women in physics

Summaries of plenaries at the 7th IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics

Plenary 1: Gender Gap in the Global Survey: Igle Gledhill, Rachel Ivie and Susan White

Plenary 1: Gender in publication practices in maths and physics, Helena Mihaljević

Plenary 1: Australia inequity, Lisa Harvey-Smith

Plenary 2: Women in physics in Sudan, challenges and opportunities, Nashwa Eassa

Plenary 2: Molecular motors and switches at surfaces, Petra Rudolf

Plenary 3: Men as allies

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Where are the world’s women in physics?

Highlights from the 7th IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics

14 July 2021

  • Women are less likely to have access to essential career resources
  • Women are massively under-represented in physics journals
  • Only 18 per cent of Australian STEM professors are women.

“On the first day of the 7th IUPAP Conference on Women in Physics we heard about the scale of the challenge to redress gender inequity in physics. As the conference progresses we hope to learn more about how we can work together to improve the situation for women in physics,” said Professor Sarah Maddison, conference co-chair.

Women are less likely to have access to essential career resources

Dr Igle Gledhill (Witwatersrand University, South Africa) and Dr Rachel Ivie (American Institute of Physics) reported that:

  • There are no significant gender differences in career opportunities such as talking at a conference as an invited speaker, serving as editor of a journal or supervising students. But,
  • Women are less likely to have access to a range of career resources, such as sufficient funding, clerical and tech support, employees or students and support as a working parent. The differences appear small, but they compound over a career.
  • Family obligations affect women significantly more than men. Women report choosing a less demanding work schedule, becoming more efficient, and slowed career progression after becoming a parent. While parenthood has no negative impact on men’s careers and in fact men with children were more likely to say their careers progressed more quickly.
  • Women are much more likely to have a partner who is also a physicist.
  • Women physicists report doing more housework than men. Male physicists report earning more than their partners, many of whom are not physicists.
  • More women than men report that their workplace is unpleasant, and sometimes hostile.
  • Many more women than men have experienced, or are aware of, sexual harassment at work.

Their presentation was based on a 2018 survey of more than 30,000 researchers around the world, 7500 of whom are physicists.

Women are massively under-represented in physics journals

The ‘good’ news is that, when looking at papers from the last few years, about 25 per cent of astronomy and astrophysics authors are women, and their numbers have been steadily increasing. But such a positive trend is not evident in other disciplines of theoretical physics, reported Helena Mihaljević. Her team at HTW University of Applied Science Germany analysed open-access publication databases.

They also found that the so-called productivity gap, as a ratio of women’s over men’s productivity, is closing in astronomy and astrophysics for recent cohorts, but not in mathematics or theoretical physics. This may partly be due to different publication practices in these fields, with astronomy being very collaborative with multi-author papers; while mathematics is more likely to have single author publications.

Female authorship of various renowned physics papers remains at or below 10 per cent. However, the bright spots are astronomy and astrophysics, which shows an overall positive trend.

Only 18 per cent of Australian STEM professors are women

28 per cent of people employed in Australian science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields are women but only 18 per cent of professors are women.

Professor Lisa Harvey Smith, Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador, also reported that of the women who graduated with a STEM degree in 2011, only one in ten were working in STEM five years later, compared with one in five men.

For more details, graphics and interviews visit www.scienceinpublic.com.au/iupap-women and contact:
Laura Boland, laura@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0408 166 426
Niall Byrne, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0417 131 977

Background: more on each session

Gender Gap in the Global Survey: Igle Gledhill, Rachel Ivie and Susan White

To understand and reduce the gender gap in science, we must identify the various factors that deter women from pursuing scientific careers.

Several international surveys have explored these issues in the past. The 2018 Global Survey from Global Approach to the Gender Gap in Mathematics, Computing and Natural Sciences: How to measure it, how to reduce it? addresses inequality in education and career experiences along with work-life balance.

Dr Igle Gledhill (Witwatersrand University, South Africa) and Dr Rachel Ivie (American Institute of Physics) outline the background to this survey and some of the results for physics.

To ensure as broad representation as possible, the questionnaire was available in seven languages and distributed across 159 countries. It was completed by more than 30,000 scientists, 7500 of whom were physicists. Thirty-seven per cent of the physicists were women.

All results controlled for confounding variables (gender, age employment sector, geographical location and UN level of human development). Key findings include:

  • There are no significant gender differences in career opportunities such as talking at a conference as an invited speaker, serving as editor of a journal or supervising students.
  • Women are less likely to have access to a range of career resources, such as sufficient funding, clerical and tech support, employees or students and support as a working parent. The differences appear small, but they compound over a career.
  • Family obligations affect women significantly more than men. Women were more likely to report choosing a less demanding work schedule, becoming more efficient, and slowed career progression after becoming a parent.
  • Women are much more likely to have a partner who is also a physicist.
  • Women physicists report doing more housework than men. Male physicists report earning more than their partners, many of whom are not physicists.
  • More women than men report that their workplace can be unpleasant, and sometimes hostile.
  • Many more women than men have experienced, or are aware of, sexual harassment at work.

While these results are discouraging, this data is important to document what needs to be corrected. Recommendations to government, universities and laboratory administrators must be based on evidence to effect change.

Gender in publication practices in maths and physics, Helena Mihaljević

A scientist’s publication record is often taken as proxy for their reputation, and plays a key role in achieving and maintaining a successful academic career. An understanding of the effect of gender on publication practices is relevant to academic institutions, science policy makers and researchers alike.

Helena Mihaljević and her team at HTW University of Applied Science Germany accessed non-commercial, open-access databases and studied the distribution of authors across subfields, proportions of women authors across countries, representation of women authors in prestigious journals and research activity over time.

There are more women authors in astrophysics than other physics disciplines (around 16 per cent), and their numbers are increasing.

There is a trend of converging career length (as determined by published works), which indicates that securing an academic position is getting harder for both women and men.

The so-called productivity gap as a ratio of women’s over men’s productivity is closing in astronomy and astrophysics for recent cohorts, but not in mathematics. This could be related to the more collaborative nature of these disciplines, as compared to mathematics.

Women are still under-represented in renowned journals, especially in physics and theoretical and pure mathematics. For maths, female authorship is extremely low and showing no signs of improving in renowned theoretical or pure maths journals, while applied maths is showing a positive trend in female authorship (around 15%). In physics, female authorship remains at or below 10 per cent, with few positive trends. However, the bright spots are astronomy and astrophysics, which shows an overall positive trend.

Australia inequity, Lisa Harvey-Smith

Around the world, women are under-represented in STEM studies and careers. The statistics are stark:

  • 28 per cent of people employed in Australian STEM industries are women.
  • Only 18 per cent of professors are women.
  • In Year 12, girls are particularly under-represented in engineering, computing, physics and higher maths.
  • Of the women who graduated with a STEM degree in 2011, one in ten were working in STEM five years later, compared with one in five men.
  • Women earned less annual median income than men as VET STEM graduates and STEM postgraduates.
  • Women working full-time in STEM who took a career break for the arrival of a child were likely to earn less than those who didn’t. Men who took career breaks for this reason earned significantly more.

There is a range of reasons why women are under-represented and there are ‘pinch points’ at every stage of education and employment that limit women’s studies and careers. These range from lack of role models and gender bias for younger women, to discrimination and more caring responsibilities for STEM professionals.

These issues are systemic and complex and require large-scale, long-term cultural and systemic change.

The Australian government is tackling this problem with a suite of programs, guided by a national strategy. Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith is the Women in STEM Ambassador and leads a team that seeks to increase the participation of women and girls in STEM education and careers across Australia. Her office is achieving this through education, research, advocacy and policy advice.

The Women in STEM Ambassador is spearheading a national awareness-raising initiative funded by a $1M investment from the Federal Government. The Future You campaign is all about exciting and informing young people about the vast array of career options that use STEM skills. 

Their education-focussed programs and activities seek to increase girls’ interest in STEM jobs, raise parents’ opinions of the importance of STEM as a future career for their children and help teachers develop more inclusive STEM learning environments.

Initiatives for professional women in STEM seek to help the media and others discover the diversity of Australian women with STEM skills, connect women with career-advancing opportunities, improve workplace culture in STEM research organisations and remove bias in awarding grant funding.

Evaluation is the only way to understand if programs are working to affect change. The National Evaluation Guide is a simple online evaluation tool that offers practical advice and breaks down program evaluation into five easy steps.

50+ countries, 300 physicists meet to address global shortage of women in physics

11 July 2021

We need all our best brains to solve global challenges.

And we need to empower women who want an intellectual life to explore big ideas. But,

  • over 99 per cent of physics students at Burkina Faso’s largest university are male
  • no women have graduated in physical sciences at The University of El Salvador between 2017 and 2020
  • in Chile, the percentage of women working full time in universities and research centres has stayed around 14 per cent for years
  • Cuba is doing better, where 20 per cent of physicists are women. But that’s less than a third of the overall percentage of women in the highly qualified workforce (68 per cent)
  • around 24 per cent of Germany’s physics PhDs are awarded to women. And they’re training thousands of physicists from other countries with 43% of women pursuing a PhD in physics being international
  • 95% of Irish students study science up to age 16 years, only four per cent of girls follow through with physics in their final years
  • the Netherlands is approaching 30% women in undergraduate physics enrolments, with steady increases
  • the United Kingdom has seen slight increases in women students from 21% in 2012/13 to 24% in 2017/18
  • Iranian women are leading the way in physics, making up around 55% of PhD candidates. And all physics teachers in female high schools are now women, further encouraging girls to pursue education in physics.

And in Australia? Women account for only 25% of Australian year 12 physics students. As they progress through university and research most fall away. A recent study in Nature noted that it will take until 2060 to achieve 33 per cent gender equity in astronomy research in Australia.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) has recognised a need to foster the participation of women in physics. This is IUPAP’s seventh International Conference on Women in Physics.

From 11-16 July they’re bringing together 300+ physicists from over 50 countries for a virtual conference, co-chaired by Dr Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist of Australia, and Professor Sarah Maddison, Swinburne University.

“Over the next week we will discuss what’s working, what’s not working, and what can affluent nations do to support women into physical science careers in developing nations,” says Cathy.

“The impact of COVID on research has set back gender equity,” says Cathy. “But it’s also introduced new ways of working online that could benefit women. This conference is one example.”

Over the next week we will be bringing you stories from the conference, with women physicists from Australia, international and developing nations available for interview.

For more information and interviews visit www.scienceinpublic.com.au/iupap-women and contact:
Laura Boland, laura@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0408 166 426
Niall Byrne, niall@scienceinpublic.com.au, 0417 131 977

IUPAP speaker call out

We’re assisting with media liaison for the 7th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics next week.  We understand that you will be speaking at a session of the conference.

We’re working with the organising committee to bring the ideas and issues discussed at the conference to a wide public audience via media and social media. To do this, we will issue stories to the media throughout the conference, and to selected media in advance on embargo.

We are writing to see if you are willing and available during the conference to speak with media about your talk, work and/or relevant issues regarding women in physics.

If you are not available or interested, we would also appreciate you letting us know. Or if you would like to nominate a peer or colleague at the conference to speak about your work or session, please let us know their details and we’ll get in touch.

If you are keen, then we have a few short questions for you:

These are introductory questions to gauge your potential stories and opportunities for media coverage. So, if any question is irrelevant to you, please ignore it.

1.      Will your talk have ideas or information that’s potentially newsworthy?

  • If so, can you provide a copy of your talk (or key points), and/or a plain English explanation of the broader significance of your findings.

2.      Do you have any opinions that you would like to share?

For example:

  • You may have opinions about your research/discovery, or opinions and stories around equality, diversity and inclusion for women in physics in your country. If you can provide brief comments of 40 to 80 words then we can share those with journalists and on social media.
  • Would you be interested in writing an opinion editorial? This is a newspaper opinion story, usually around 600 to 800 words on your work and/or issues relating to the conference. We can edit contributions.

3.      Are you on social media?

If so, what handles/names do you and your organisation use?

We’ll be tweeting from @IUPAPwomen and we may also have time to share information you post on other platforms.

4.      If we do release information about your work would you like us to share it with any of your contacts?

·         For example your media team, journalists you’ve spoken with in the past, supporters of your work.

5.      Do you have any relevant photos that we can share with media and social media?

We’re writing to everyone speaking at the conference and we’ll choose the best mix of stories. If we include your work/story we’ll let you know. 

About Science in Public

Science in Public is a science communication and public relations business based in Melbourne. We have a core team of 7 staff and associates around Australia.

You can read more about us and our work at www.scienceinpublic.com.au.

And you can view examples of past conference media alerts and releases at the following links:

Contact us at sarah.bradley@scienceinpublic.com.au if you have any questions.