Women in maths – shock statistics

Just six per cent of mathematics professors in the UK are women. These are the latest statistics from the Women in Mathematics Committee who commissioned the first ever gender survey of UK maths departments.

I’m in no doubt that the statistics are correct, and am sure the committee cast a careful eye over them before they were published-but what a shocking statistic it is!

As Jane Martinson pointed out in her blog, “maths boasts one of the most skewed gender balances of any university subject.”

It’s a curious statistic particularly because the figures don’t correspond with any significant disparity in early forms of education. It doesn’t exist in school, for example, where girls make up some 40% of A’ level maths students and some 42% of girls study for a maths degree.

However, once they leave university, enter the academic field and workplace, women fade away and career progression and opportunities look less than favorable. The statistics revealed that just 29% become researchers, 19% study to doctorate level and just 6% take on a professorship.

Female career progression is an issue in many industries, but these statics show it is particularly bad in the field of mathematics. Dr Christie Marr, deputy director of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge – a world leading mathematical research centre, said the drop off was to do with the familiar story – women dropping out to have a family, rather than any form of direct discrimination.

She said: “In maths you go off and have kids and when you come back, the landscape has changed. It’s a hierarchical subject where every layer builds on earlier layers, so it can be extremely difficult to catch up.”

The good news is that things could be set to change rapidly. Research Councils UK, who look after the financial side for mathematics subjects, said that grant funding would be conditional on effective quality programmes.

If this does not work then a sort of quality kite mark could be put into place to show they are gender friednly before maths departments can qualify for money.
So, there is hope and it’s encouraging to see that the academic field is taking serious measures to address the huge disparity found in maths academia.

You can read more here.

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