Gender bias in academia: A lifetime problem that needs solutions

Anaïs Llorens*, Athina Tzovara*, Ludovic Bellier, Ilina Bhaya-Grossman, Aurélie Bidet-Caulet, William K. Chang, Zachariah R. Cross, Rosa Dominguez-Faus, Adeen Flinker, Yvonne Fonken, Mark A. Gorenstein, Chris Holdgraf, Colin W. Hoy, Maria V. Ivanova, Richard T. Jimenez, Soyeon Jun, Julia W.Y. Kam, Celeste Kidd, Enitan Marcelle, Deborah MarcianoStephanie Martin, Nicholas E. Myers, Karita Ojala, Anat Perry, Pedro Pinheiro-Chagas, Stephanie K. Riès, Ignacio Saez, Ivan Skelin, Katarina Slama, Brooke Staveland, Danielle S. Bassett, Elizabeth A. Buffalo, Adrienne L. Fairhall, Nancy J. Kopell, Laura J. Kray, Jack J. Lin, Anna C. Nobre, Dylan Riley, Anne Kristin Solbakk, Joni D. Wallis, Xiao Jing Wang, Shlomit Yuval-Greenberg, Sabine Kastner, Robert T. Knight, Nina F. Dronkers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Despite increased awareness of the lack of gender equity in academia and a growing number of initiatives to address issues of diversity, change is slow, and inequalities remain. A major source of inequity is gender bias, which has a substantial negative impact on the careers, work-life balance, and mental health of underrepresented groups in science. Here, we argue that gender bias is not a single problem but manifests as a collection of distinct issues that impact researchers’ lives. We disentangle these facets and propose concrete solutions that can be adopted by individuals, academic institutions, and society.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2047-2074
Number of pages28
Issue number13
StatePublished - 7 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Susan Fiske, Vinitha Rangarajan, Kristina R. Olson, and Sapna Cheryan for their help in editing and improving the manuscript and Luisa Reis Castro for valuable discussions. A.T. is supported by the Interfaculty Research Cooperation “Decoding Sleep: From Neurons to Health and Mind” of the University of Bern and the Swiss National Science Foundation (# 320030_188737 and P300PA_174451 ). E.A.B. is supported by NIH grant OD-010425 ; A.L.F. by the Simons Collaboration for the Global Brain ; and S.K. by the NIH ( RO1MH64043 , RO1EY017699 , and 21560-685 Silvio O. Conte Center), the James S. McDonnell Foundation , and the Overdeck Family Foundation . C.K. is supported by the Jacobs Foundation ; N.J.K. by the NIH/NIGMS ( P01-GM118629 ) and NIH/NIMH ( P50-MH109429 ); and J.J.L. by Brain Initiative U19NS107609-01 . A.C.N is funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award (ACN 104571/Z/14/Z ), a James S. McDonnell Foundation Understanding Human Cognition Collaborative Award ( 220020448 ), and the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre . The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is supported by core funding from the Wellcome Trust ( 203139/Z/16/Z ). S.K.R. is supported by the NIH/NIDCD ( 1R21DC016985 ). A.K.S. is supported by a research grant from the Research Council of Norway (RCN; project number 240389 ) and through the RCN Centres of Excellence scheme (project number 262762 RITMO ). J.D.W. is supported by the NIMH ( R01-MH121448 and R01-MH117763 ); W.-J.W. by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR; grant N00014-17-1-2041 ), the NIH (grant 062349 ), and the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain program (grant 543057SPI ). M.V.I. and N.F.D. are supported by the NIH/NIDCD ( R01-DC016345 ). D.S.B. is supported by the NSF ( CAREER PHY-1554488 ). R.T.K. is supported by the NINDS ( NS21135 ), NIMH (CONTE Center PO-MH109429 ), and Brain Initiative ( U19 NS107609 and U01 NS108916 ).

Funding Information:
Funding is crucial to a researcher’s scientific progression and career advancement, including gaining tenure and broad professional recognition ( Charlesworth and Banaji, 2019 ; Duch et al., 2012 ). While the funding landscape is slowly evolving toward gender parity, women still face substantial challenges as they compete for limited resources. Some funding agencies collect data on the distribution of funding across genders. For instance, the percentage of NIH research grants awarded to women has been steadily growing over the past two decades, increasing from 23% in 1998 to 34% in 2019 ( NIH Data Book—Data by Gender, 2020 ), with similar patterns observed for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the United States Department of Agriculture, and the European Research Council (ERC) ( Charlesworth and Banaji, 2019 ; ERC consolidator grants 2019 - statistics, 2019 ). However, despite this positive trend, progress still needs to be made, as women scientists typically hold fewer grants and receive smaller awards compared to men scientists ( NIH Data Book—Data by Gender, 2020 ).

Funding Information:
Institutions need to adopt official extensions of graduate, postdoctoral, and tenure timelines due to childbirth and parenthood. To address the financial difficulties for academic families, we suggest a number of measures. First, job security can be improved by creating longer-term contracts where possible and providing bridge funds at the department or university level to support trainees during gaps in funding ( Stewart and Valian, 2018 ). Both universities and funding institutions should put measures in place to prevent a gap in funding during parental leave ( Powell 2019 ). Special provisions for parenthood can be made in calls for proposals and funding mechanisms. A few funding organizations include childbirth in their policies as a valid reason to extend the eligibility window (from 1 year for NIH K awards to 18 months for ERC grants or a 2-year extension to post-PhD limits per child for the Emmy Noether Program of the German Research Foundation) or subtract time for parental leave (“ Research Project for Young Talent ” proposed by the Research Council of Norway, 2–7 years post-PhD). Finally, efforts should be made to reduce the difficulty in returning to work after maternity leave, such as providing lactation rooms.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


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