This Is How Many Women Are Members Of Science Academies

    Just 6% of members of the UK's Royal Society are women, putting us below Ghana and Palestine, according to a new report.

    A report has found that just 12% of the members of the national science academies around the world are women.

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    The report was carried out by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF).

    The national science academies grant membership to that country's most prestigious and successful scientists.

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    For example, in the UK, being an FRS – a "Fellow of the Royal Society" – is a hugely respected position. There have only been 8,000 since the Society was founded in 1660, and its members have included Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

    But worldwide, women are severely underrepresented in those academies.

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    The number of female members varies from discipline to discipline, but they're in a stark minority in every case.

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    These are mean averages. If you do median averages – listing the academies within each discipline in order, and taking the middle one – some sciences, including engineering and computing, get 0%.

    The Royal Society is particularly short of female scientists. Just 6% of members of the UK's academy are women.

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    That's just 92 of its 1,419 current members. It puts us 53rd of the 63 academies which provided data, below – among many others – Kenya, Bangladesh, Palestine, Uganda and Ghana.

    (That said, those countries have much smaller academies, so a small number of women can make big differences to the data. For instance, six of the 85 members – or 7% – of the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences are women. But if just one of those women retired, they'd be tied with us on 6%.)

    And it's not just because there are fewer women scientists. Women make up a much, much larger fraction of the scientific community as a whole.

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    But the landscape is shifting. Fellows of the Royal Society tend to be older, because to gain access, you need to have achieved recognition in your field. And because science was more male-dominated in the past, older scientists are more likely to be men.

    Dorothy Ngila, the author of the ASSAF report, told the journal Nature that 20% of the most recent intake of FRSes are women. So things may be improving.

    It's not all disheartening news for female scientists. Women are much more likely to hold positions on the governing bodies of academies.

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    While just 12% of the members of national academies are women, 20% of the people on the governing bodies are.

    The US National Academy of Sciences has the highest representation of women at that level, at 47%, while the UK's Royal Society is also high at 40%.

    Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

    Contact Tom Chivers at

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