SIAM News Blog

An Introduction to the Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science

By Lina Sorg

The Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES) is an international, interdisciplinary network of organizations that actively work to promote gender equality and support female access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-based education and career opportunities. The committee originated as an extension of the “Gender Gap in Science” project, which was funded by the International Science Council (ISC) and led by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). When funding for this project concluded in 2019, participating organizations wished to continue their efforts towards worldwide gender equality by uniting scientists across all disciplines and nationalities. In the spring of 2020, representatives of six unions that had taken part in the Gender Gap project drafted a memorandum of understanding to create the SCGES.

The Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES) was established in September 2020.
During the 10th International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which is currently taking place in Tokyo, Japan, Carol Woodward of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory introduced the SCGES and spoke about its various activities. SCGES’ nine founding partners are the Association for Computing Machinery, GenderInSITE, the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM), IMU, IUPAC, the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), the International Astronomical Union, and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (IUHPST). As of August 2023, SCGES has 22 international partner unions. Each partner union appoints a representative and deputy representative to SCGES who serve as liaisons between their union and the committee. “They cover an enormous number of fields and disciplines,” Woodward said. Although SCGES is not part of the ISC, it maintains a good relationship with the council.

SCGES holds plenary meetings twice a year with all representatives and deputy representatives, who then disseminate relevant information to their respective unions. The most recent meeting in February 2023 marked the first in-person gathering of this type. “It was a two-day meeting, and the first day we had intense exchanges amongst us on a number of topics,” Woodward said. “It was quite fascinating to hear and exchange information about issues across disciplines as well as globally.” Group presentations and small and large discussions centered on the following three topics:

  • Committees or working groups that are dedicated to gender equality within unions
  • Codes of conduct or expected behaviors at sponsored meetings
  • Gender parity at meetings and in governance, and gender equality in meeting programming.

“The goal was to share experiences with differing approaches to support gender equality and discuss successes and challenges with each one,” Woodward said. As a result, members were asked to start collecting gender data on union activities, such as the gender breakdown of invited speakers and meeting organizers, authors and editors (for unions with a publication branch), and prize recipients. “A lot of people don’t know if they have a gender gap until they actually start looking at data,” Woodward said. “This helps to give an understanding as to what more can be done.”

Carol Woodward of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory talks about the Standing Committee for Gender Equality in Science (SCGES)—which emerged from the “Gender Gap in Science” project—during the 10th International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics. SIAM photo.
Every partner union also contributes information about union activities that support gender equality to the SCGES Annual Report. These reports—the third of which is currently underway—offer a sense of the unions’ organizational structures and detail initiatives that are meant to encourage gender equality. Such initiatives include committees and working groups, codes of conduct at sponsored meetings; gender parity requirements for speakers, organizers, leadership positions, and/or travel awards; conference programming in support of gender equality (plenary speakers, panels, and sessions); and prizes dedicated to women in the field.

In December 2020, SCGES released a statement that encouraged all STEM-based individuals and institutions to join forces and support female colleagues whose research careers were jeopardized by COVID-19. Woodward noted that women in science—especially early-career researchers—were disproportionately affected by the pandemic because they were often saddled with care-giving obligations for children and elderly relatives. The SCGES statement included the following recommendations:

  • Institutions should extend the contracts of academics in temporary positions and take caregiver responsibilities into account when considering promotion or tenure.
  • Funding agencies and recruitment committees should recognize the burdens of increased caregiving when assessing applications, as these duties cause lapses in research productivity.
  • Journals should ask authors to indicate their caregiving burden and prioritize the publication of those with a major load of children or elder care.
  • Online conference fees should be adjusted for participants who have lost income sources due to pandemic-related job changes or caregiver responsibilities.

In 2022, SCGES launched a webinar series to raise awareness of gender equality issues across various scientific disciplines. The two-hour webinars are available on the SCGES YouTube channel and organized by the partner unions. To date, SCGES has hosted nine webinars on the subsequent topics:

  • February 2022: “Gender Equality in Mathematics,” organized by IMU and ICIAM
  • March 2022: “Inclusion and Participation of Women in Global Science Organizations,” organized by GenderInSITE
  • June 2022: “Toward Gender Equality in Science: Perspectives from Psychology,” organized by the International Union of Psychological Science
  • June 2022: “Quotas for Women in Science: Are They an Effective Step Towards Equality and/or Equity?,” organized by IUBS
  • October 2022: “Moving Ahead on Gender Equality: A Chemistry Perspective,” organized by IUPAC
  • December 2022: “(In-)visibility of Women in Science: Historical Perspectives,” organized by IUHPST
  • February 2023: “How to Evaluate and Reduce the Gender Gap in Science,” organized by SCGES
  • June 2023: “Developing and Enacting Codes of Conduct in Professional Unions,” organized by SCGES
  • July 2023: “Gender Equality and Beyond in the Polar Sciences,” organized by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Woodward concluded her presentation encouraging attendees to check out the SCGES website, Twitter account, and YouTube channel for additional updates and opportunities for involvement. SCGES continues to promote gender equality and provide recommendations to support women in scientific fields, though significant progress remains to be made.

Lina Sorg is the managing editor of SIAM News.
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