Women in the Biomedical Workforce
Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups icon

Over the past 30 years, the number and proportion of women obtaining science and engineering bachelor’s and doctoral degrees has increased dramatically, although their participation in leadership positions remains limited. In 2014, women earned half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and a little less than half of all science and engineering doctoral degrees. However, in 2015, women constituted less than one fourth of all full professorships with science, engineering, and health doctorates at both research-intensive institutions and four-year institutions. Women similarly comprise almost half of all medical school graduates, but are underrepresented among physician-scientists and in all medical school faculty positions from Assistant Professor though Chair and Dean.

Women from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds in science and engineering fields face particular challenges at the graduate level and beyond. For example, African American women students often have complex academic profiles, more often including initial entrance into two-year colleges and earned master’s degrees before PhD completion.

Women comprise half of the employees in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, but available data suggest they represent about 17 percent of senior management positions. Reports suggest there may be greater representation of women in senior roles at smaller biotechnology companies than in large pharmaceutical firms.

The NIH’s Women in Biomedical Careers website is maintained by the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). It promotes innovative strategies to enhance entry, recruitment, retention, and sustained advancement of women in biomedical and research careers. In addition, ORWH sponsors the Women of Color Research Network, which addresses the challenges faced by women and minorities entering and advancing in scientific careers. View a short video exit icon from the Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health.

Women have been shown to be underrepresented in doctorate-granting research institutions at senior faculty levels in most biomedical-relevant disciplines, and may also be underrepresented at other faculty levels in some scientific disciplines (See data from the National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, special report, especially Table 9-23, describing science, engineering, and health doctorate holders employed in universities and 4-year colleges, by broad occupation, sex, years since doctorate, and faculty rank).

Literature shows that women from racial and ethnic groups shown to be underrepresented in health-related sciences, women with disabilities, and women from disadvantaged backgrounds face particular challenges at the graduate level and beyond in scientific fields.

Upon review of NSF data, and scientific discipline or field related data, NIH encourages institutions to consider women for faculty-level, diversity-targeted programs to address faculty recruitment, appointment, retention or advancement.


Selected Reports