The gender gap still exists: women continue to earn less and receive less funding or research funds than men. They also have less access to senior and senior positions. Many factors contribute to these gender disparities, but research has already made it clear that productivity differences cannot explain them. Instead, women receive less recognition than men for equivalent achievements. Why? It is a question, even without concrete answer, that several researchers are trying to solve.
One of the hypotheses has to do with the promotion made of the scientific discoveries of each group. A team of researchers from Yale University has examined whether women and men differ in the degree to which they promote their achievements by using positive terms when describing their research. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, It documents that women use less of these positive adjectives in their articles and that these differences in presentation seem to influence the amount of attention their research receives.
“The approximately 20 million articles published since 1980 represent about 75% of all life and health sciences articles published,” the researchers said in HBR. This amount of publications makes scientists have to be increasingly selective when deciding what to read and what to devote their time to. “Self-promotion has almost become more important than ever to get your attention.” There are different ways to do it: from sharing research through social networks to highlighting the results in articles and presentations. And this can influence, for example, when applying for grants.
Yale University researchers examined gender differences in self-promotion by analyzing the titles and abstracts of 6.2 million research articles published over 15 years (between 2002 and 2017): they considered that these fragments are key to transmitting the main findings They obtained data on articles from the PubMed database and the author’s gender data probabilistically: “Using the Genderize database, if at least 90% of people with a particular name were women, we encode the author as a woman”. With this, they counted the number of times the authors used a set of 25 distinctively positive words and used natural language processing algorithms to characterize the text surrounding these words.
They found that articles written by women were up to 21% less likely to use positive terms to frame the results of their research than comparable articles published in the most prestigious journals with at least one man in a leading author position. “Additional analyzes confirmed that these positive words generally qualified the findings: we often saw combinations of words such as” novel approach, “” unique mechanism, “or” promising result, “the researchers explain.” Both men and women used positive words to describe their findings, but women used them less frequently. “
But does self-promotion really influence anything? The researchers examined whether these gender differences in self-promotion influenced the number of references to work made by other experts. “They found that articles with positive words received up to 13% more citations compared to investigations of similar news published in the same journals but without the positive framing.” Authors who did not promote themselves received less attention.
One of the most striking conclusions of this study is that what women say about their own work depends on the professional stage they are in. Gender differences in self-promotion were more pronounced in the initial and middle stages of the race. As they rise in rank, their use of positive words about their work increases. At the highest levels, the disparity disappears. “Part of this effect may come from women presenting their research with more confidence as they gain seniority.”
This research is focused on women scientists and their research. “Even so, we suspect the same thing happens in a wide variety of settings, probably contributing to the increase in gender social gaps,” the researchers explain. “It seems fair to say that women would do well to further promote their achievements. But the responsibility does not lie only with them. Male colleagues should also encourage women and ensure that they are not penalized for the self-promotion they do.”