What is it about?

The first contribution of the paper is a more detailed picture and precise description of what is called the productivity puzzle. In general, female researchers have at least similar impact as equally productive male researchers. Actually, in some research fields the ratio between top cited papers and productivity is considerably higher for women. Therefore, we can conclude that the relation between productivity and the number of high impact papers is about the same for men and women within specific productivity classes. However, overall, the propensity to have highly cited papers is higher the more papers you publish. And we found that women are strongly underrepresented within classes of high productivity, i.e. those who publish more than eight papers over the period (=2 papers per year). This leads to a lower overall productivity for female researchers, which is also in our sample about 2/3 of male productivity – a ratio that was established already at the end of the 1960s and seems to be stable over time. The second contribution of this article is that it tries to find explanations what are the underlying factors for these productivity differences between men and women? Using a dataset covering 47 000 Swedish individual researchers and a subset of 6,000 researchers at ten Swedish universities with their publications over the period 2008 2011, we identity several factors that have an effect on performance. When controlling for those the effect of gender on performance is considerably reduced: age and academic position, position in the research team and related to this, the speed of the career. (i) Gender productivity differences are explained by that men are older and in higher positions, and that those in higher positions are more productive. (ii) Female researchers occupy less last author positions than men do, and this factor also has a negative effect on female productivity, which reflects that women have on average lower positions within research teams, and that they are less often (conceived as) leader of a team or a collaboration network. (iii) This reflects that male researchers show a faster career than their female counterparts. So, lower positions and slower career result from gender bias in the science system, and these factors have a negative effect on the performance of female researchers In other words, we observe a vicious circle, which may explain the persistence of a glass ceiling in science: Gender stereotyping influences the academic rank and position in research collaboration and in teams, and these in turn have an effect on productivity, which may reciprocally influence academic rank and the role female researchers have in their team, and reinforce gender stereotyping. This suggests that several factors may disadvantage female researchers, giving fewer opportunities to develop into really productive researchers. These differences will simply not diminish over time. Instead, gender equality policies remain important to reverse the coupled vicious circles that produce the glass ceiling for women in science.

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Why is it important?

Gender equality in research has been on the agenda for such a long time and there are some misconceptions about the real development in this area. Unfortunately, the figures are quite bad. Also in a country like Sweden which seems to be the most equal country. We should use the potential of all scientists, including all women in science, in order to solve the many societal challenges we face.

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This page is a summary of: Vicious circles of gender bias, lower positions, and lower performance: Gender differences in scholarly productivity and impact, PLoS ONE, August 2017, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183301.
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