Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociologist and the director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University. Robert A. Thomson Jr. is a sociologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
In March of last year, NASA canceled a would-be all-woman spacewalk because it didn’t have enough suits to fit the female astronauts. (By October, it rectified the situation and completed the walk.) For many, the incident highlighted how women are often marginalized in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and are underrepresented in science careers.
National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins—an outspoken Christian—has also spoken out about science’s glaring need to be more inclusive, especially among leadership. He wrote an open letter stating, “It is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as ‘manels.’ ” He now plans to turn down speaking engagements that do not seriously consider other scientists of various backgrounds for the same opportunities.
His concern is backed by data. We studied academic biologists and physicists in eight international contexts, conducted through Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, and found that women accounted for only 17 percent of US physicists. Biology tends to have better gender parity, and yet only 39 percent of US biologists in our sample were women, with most of these concentrated in lower ranks rather than full professorships. Christian women were particularly underrepresented, accounting for only 7 percent of scientists participating in our study, a finding discussed more in our book, Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think about Religion.