Do women have an equal chance in science?

economics winners

Two female winners of this year’s Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine have called for more flexibility in working practices to allow women to play a greater role in science.

Elizabeth Blackburn (pictured left) and Carol Greider (pictured right) told the Associated Press that men and women start their science careers in roughly equal numbers, but women often find themselves unable to advance as far. They believe this has nothing to do with inherent abilities, but rather the result of science institutions being unwilling to offer flexible career paths to women who have children.

The two suggest that institutions could rectify this by allowing more room for new mothers to work on projects part time, noting that such work is not “second-rate quality science”. They also believe there needs to be active measures taken to address the imbalance, which means women are under-represented in decision-making positions and on influential committees.

Just 15 women have won science-based Nobel prizes, with this year marking a record as Blackburn and Greider are joined by chemistry winner Ada Yonath. This year’s award ceremony, taking place on Thursday, will also mark an overall record of five female winners with Herta Muller taking the literature prize and Elinor Ostrom sharing an economics prize.

The latter award has proved controversial with some critics claiming Orstrom’s work — which considers whether the general population is better placed to regulate environmental issues than government — is more social science than strict economics.

In other Nobel news, the Nobel Foundation has revealed it may have to cut the $1.5 million prize for each category for the first time next year. In line with Alfred Nobel’s instructions, the Foundation’s funds are invested in “safe” securities to produce the prize money. The financial crisis of last year left those funds reduced by almost 20 percent, with the Foundation’s executive director Michael Sohlman saying “We have sailed the storm, but have taken on some water.”

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