Field of Science

Should women ask for more, or are we punished for being 'greedy'?

A short paper in the Lancet (Bedi et al) compares the sizes of grants awarded to women and to men by the Wellcome Trust, from 2000 to 2008.  Male applicants get, on average, £44,735 more than women.  Women's grants must also be shorter, because the disparity is even more dramatic when funding is calculated per year.

Because women and men have similar success rates for these grants, and the amounts awarded are usually the amounts requested, the authors think the discrepancy is because 'women are systematically less ambitious in the amounts of funding requested in their grant applications.' 

They recommend that mentors 'should ensure that women are as ambitious as men in their outlook, and in their grant proposals'.  But they don't consider the alternative explanation, that women who ask for as much as men do are seen as greedy and undeserving, while women with modest ambitions are rewarded. This might be checked by comparing the the requested amount with the probability of being funded, for men and for women.

Their second recommendation, that 'men should be encouraged to be economical when costing such applications', is of course absurd.


  1. I really don't think that committees punish women for greed because (a) Wellcome funding success rates are v. similar for men and women (though far fewer females apply) and (b) I sit on a Wellcome committee and money is the last thing looked at after the science is appraised - it's rather unusual for a grant funding to be reduced, though if someone was clearly asking for more than needed it would be cut.
    I think it more likely that women ask for less - and this would be part of the same psychology that makes them less willing to ask for promotion, salary rises etc., which is pretty well documented.

  2. I agree that the authors' hypothesis is plausible, but they should have raised the alternatives even if they couldn't get their hands on the data needed to test them.

    More generally, it's easy to relax when we've identified what we see as a likely explanation, but the alternatives still need to be rigorously tested.

  3. rosemary,
    love the blog but PLEASE do a better job with your figures (e.g. what do the bars you show correspond to— for all I know women are on the left and men on the right!). i should be able to understand the meaning of your figures by simply looking at them. i realise this is just a blog, but in my lab I expect EVERY figure my students and postdocs present (even informally to me), to have well-labeled axes and make a clear and well defined point. In the same way that science blogging helps us practice our written communication skills, the visuals we present on these blogs should also serve as practice for communicating information visually. Just my two cents, but I think you know i get results.


  4. Figure fixed. (I had copied the authors' figure but neglected to add the information from the legend.)

  5. "Women's grants must also be shorter, because the disparity is even more dramatic when funding is calculated per year." If yearly amounts show a larger difference, shouldn't their grants be longer instead of shorter? Eg use the same sum of money over a greater number of years, so the yearly allocation is smaller.


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