The blog Doug’s Archaeology recently had a great post about the disparities in NSF archaeology grants between men and women. Briefly, he showed that about 70% of all applications for NSF grants in archaeology are held by men. But this figure is even less than the proportion of all applications for NSF grants in archaeology that are made by men (75%). So there is a gender disparity between the proportion of applicants, but not in acceptance rates.
A separate issue is the composition of panels at conferences. One study of the annual meetings of the American Society for Microbiology found that the number of women invited to speak at organized panels correlated with the number of women involved in the organization of those panels. Thus, panels organized by men invited mostly male speakers (75%), whereas the representation of women increased (from 25% to 43%) on panels whose organizers included at least one woman.
Curious, I ran a quick analysis of the last annual meetings of my professional association, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). I found that in panels organized by one or more men (and no women), 66% of the speakers were male; in panels organized by one man and one woman, the speakers were 50% male; and in panels organized by one or more women, 47% of the speakers were male. [Disclosure: I organized a panel at the 2014 annual meeting of the AIA with two other men; we invited two women and three men to present papers.]
Most panel organizers were men (24, compared to 14 women) and most invited speakers were men (69, compared to 53) women, so that in sum, 57% of all invited speakers at the AIA were men. (Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to run the numbers on the open panels, to see what proportion of speakers are male and female.)
Of course, my “study” hardly qualifies as such, since it only included one annual meeting and I didn’t control for anything at all. Even so, it seems plausible that we have a problem similar to the NSF: more organizers are male, resulting in gender disparities among speakers. Likewise, in the NSF study, it seems that more men are PIs of projects, resulting in many more applications by men. I have no solutions to this problem, although I can think of at least one potential solution that I’m entirely opposed to.