Gender in the Research Workforce: New Analytical Report Reveals Uneven Progress Towards Equality

Gender in the Research Workforce

New Analytical Report Reveals Uneven Progress Towards Equality

by Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski and Sacha Boucherie, Elsevier

What is the future of the global STEM workforce? A recently released report, Gender in the Global Research Landscape (2017), by information analytics company Elsevier, provides unprecedented data-driven insights as to where this might be headed.

On a positive note, the report demonstrates the number of women researchers is increasing, but it also makes clear that progress has been incremental and uneven.

Of the 12 comparator countries/regions analyzed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Denmark, the European Union (E.U.), Japan, Mexico, Portugal, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.), the proportion of women was 49 percent in 2011–2015 (up from 38 and 41 percent, respectively, in 1996–2000) in both Brazil and Portugal. However, in Japan, although the proportion of women also increased, it was still only 20 percent in 2011–2015. The country with the largest increase in the proportion of women between the two time periods was Denmark (moving from 29 to 41 percent).

The report findings highlight research areas where improvements are most needed in terms of gender diversity. For example, while health and life sciences have the highest representation of women, still fewer than 25 percent of researchers in physical sciences are women.


Drawing on data from Elsevier's Scopus database, analytical expertise, and a unique gender disambiguation methodology, the report looks at trends and measures of research performance over a period of 20 years, 12 comparator countries/regions and 27 subject areas. The study analyzes data across two inclusive five-year timeframes: 1996–2000 and 2011–2015. To accurately disambiguate the data by gender, Scopus Author Profiles were combined with data from third-party name data providers: NamSor, Genderize, Wikipedia.

The 12 comparator countries/regions analyzed are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Denmark, the E.U., Japan, Mexico, Portugal, the U.K. and the U.S.. They were selected based on their representation of major global geographies, having a high total scholarly output, and allowing application of the gender disambiguation methodology.

Download the full report.

Collaboration and Mobility

With regards to collaboration, women researchers generally engage less in both international collaboration and academic industry collaboration than men. Moreover, women researchers tend to be less geographically mobile than their male counterparts, although in Japan a disproportionately high number of women researchers were found to leave the country.


Leadership was analyzed through the proportion of papers on which researchers are first or corresponding authors. In the U.S., women are first or corresponding author on 43 percent of their engineering papers, 20 percentage points less than men. In nursing where women represent more than half of nursing researchers, the reverse is true.

Patent Applications

Women constitute only a tiny proportion of inventors based on the number of submitted patent applications, though the gap is starting to close. Globally, the percentage of patent applications that include at least one woman among inventors also increased, from 19 percent in 1996–2000 to 28 percent in 2011–2015. In Portugal women now comprise 30 percent of inventors (compared with 14 percent in 1996–2000); while in Mexico women have increased from 7 to 21 percent.

Gender as Subject Area of Research

Finally, gender as a subject area of research seems to be growing in size and complexity, with new topics emerging that include papers on feminism, gender stereotyping, and gender classification and identification. The dominance of the U.S. has declined, as gender research activity in the E.U. has risen and is now more equally split between the U.S. and the E.U. in the period from 2011–2015.

Considerations for the Future

The data clearly highlights great variability between geographies and across all measures of research performance, so what are the next steps? What are Portugal and Brazil doing different than Japan to give them an almost gender balanced research workforce? What policy changes has Denmark implemented to achieve the greatest percentage increase of women in research among the comparators studied? These critical questions that will impact the future STEM workforce will require input from decision makers from all sectors — academia, corporate, government — to develop solutions.