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Fewer Chances to Speak

Women get fewer opportunities than men do to speak at scientific conferences, a new analysis shows.

Researchers from the US and UK examined the number of women and men invited or assigned to speak at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting between 2014 and 2016. When attendees submit an abstract, they can choose to have conveners assign them to an oral or a poster presentation or choose a poster presentation only. Speakers may also be invited to submit an abstract. Between 2014 and 2016, 22,000 abstracts were submitted.

As they reported this week in Nature Communications, the University of Cambridge's Helen Ford and her colleagues found women were invited or assigned to speak less frequently than men. Women were assigned to oral presentations 29 percent of the time.

Part of this, the researchers found, was a function of career stage. Women tended to be in earlier stages of their careers — which the researchers note is likely due to historical barriers to women in scientific fields and the leaky pipeline — and most speaking slots were given to individuals at senior career stages.

Ford and her colleagues also found that male conveners were less likely to invite female speakers. Ford tells the Guardian that the effect remained even when they stratified the male conveners by their career stage. "This is a community-wide issue, it is not a generational issue," she says.