CAREER BRIEF

Why fewer women than men ask questions at conferences

More time is needed for questions and breaks before the question stage.

That male speakers outnumber female speakers at seminars and conferences has been a long-standing issue in science, but a gender gap exists on the other side of the lectern, too. Male conference attendees are about 2.5 times more likely than their female counterparts to ask questions of a speaker or panel after a presentation, a study in PLoS One has found (A. Carter et al. PLoS One 13, e0202743; 2018). The authors collected observational data at 247 departmental seminars, hosted at 35 institutions in 10 countries. They also carried out an online survey to gauge how researchers felt about asking questions. By analysing the responses from 509 researchers around the world, the authors found that women were significantly more likely than men to say that they had kept silent because they were unsure whether their question was appropriate, or because they did not have enough “nerve” to ask it. Lead author Alecia Carter, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Montpellier in France, and her co-authors suggest that women might be more likely to raise their hands if organizers allotted more time for questions, or scheduled a short break first for attendees to gather their thoughts.

Nature 562, 451 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07049-x
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