Women in science are not using positive words to describe their work

According to a study published this week in the journal BMJ, women in science are less likely to describe their research as “excellent”.

Women in science, medicine, and STEM are still experiencing gender disparities. Actually, according to The Washington Post, female researchers are cited less than their men colleagues, earn less and receive less funding when they are starting their careers. 

Also, as read on The New York Times, even though every year the same number of men and women get doctoral degrees in science, only one of four professors at American research institutions is a woman. 

Now, this new study, led by German social scientist Marc Lerchenmueller, noticed some differences in how women describe their work and the way that affects their careers. 

With his team, Lerchenmueller analyzed more than 100,000 medical studies published during a 15 year period and discovered that women are less likely to use terms like “novel”, “excellent”, “unique”, among others, to describe their research. 

This represents a problem because scientists often use titles and abstracts to select what to read and the positive language that is being used by men may catch the attention of others in the scientific community. Actually, the study found that those articles with positive language were being cited more. 

According to CBC, researchers found that articles that made use of the positive terms mentioned before were cited 9.4 percent more by other scientists. In high-impact journals the differences were bigger: articles that used those words were cited 13 percent more.

Also read: How to recruit more women to your business?

As read on The New York Times, a citation is an important metric for hiring, pay, funding and promotion in the scientific community, so differences in language and self-promotion can lead to bigger gender disparities in the future. 

“The complicated question that this data is raising is: Should women start to overhype their research?” said Marc Lerchenmueller.  “Is this something that might be more acceptable when men do it, vs. when women do it?” he continued. 

His findings also highlighted the fact that these choices of words that women are making could be influenced by editorials. Professor Athene Donald told The Guardian that biases in the editorial process have been studied widely. 

“Here is another example when gender differences, probably imposed by unconscious cultural norms on both authors and editors, lead to divergent outcomes,” she said. 

“Because publishing itself has so much impact on career progression, this finding has significant implications. Academic processes and institutions need to pay much more attention to what gets published where, why and by whom.”

The study “Publishing While Female” found earlier this year that women face higher editorial standards: “Their manuscripts are subject to greater scrutiny, spend longer under review and women, in turn, respond by conforming to those standards,” Erin Hengel, an economist at the University of Liverpool, wrote. 

In an accompanying editorial, Harvard's Dr. Julie Silver highlighted the fact that from childhood women and girls are told to act with modesty and take up little space, which can have serious consequences later in life. 

“Journal editors must address gender equity within their own organizations and develop training and procedures focused on eradicating implicit bias, as undeniably manuscripts are altered by journal processes from submission to publication”, said Dr. Silver. 

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