Pictured: University of Texas Austin associate professor in educational psychology and lead researcher Veronica Yan

Why are men forgetting about their female research colleagues?

A new study aims to shine a light on why female psychological researchers’ work are being recognized less than their male counterparts.  

A 2024 study has found in the world of psychological research, men are almost entirely forgetting that their female counterparts exist.

I’m sure most people can resonate with the terribly uncomfortable feeling of going to introduce a colleague to someone, and realising that their name has slipped through one ear and out the other.

But “I Forgot That You Existed: Role of Memory Accessibility in the Gender Citation Gap,” finally offers a potential reason as to why male researchers work receives more citations and views than their female colleagues. The answer is a little thing called “recall bias”: male psychologists are more likely to name other male psychologists when asked about other experts in their field, rather than calling to mind both male and female psychologists, which would reflect a more accurate picture of reality. 

In an earlier 2020 study, Odic and Wojcik found massive gaps in the number of female researchers cited in over 125 peer-reviewed studies compared to their male counterparts. 

Drawing on this prior research, UT Austin associate professor in educational psychology Veronica Yan and her colleagues sought an explanation for why this might be. Interestingly, the field of psychology provides pretty excellent ground for this type of gender bias research, due to the impressively high rates of female graduates. 

Yan and her colleagues hypothesised that the reasoning behind this was that women were not top of mind when it came to citing other colleagues’ work. This hypothesis proved correct. When psychology researchers and university faculty members were asked to list up to five experts in their field, male respondents named only 27% women in their answers, whereas women named almost 50%. This is particularly interesting as psychology is one of the fields with the most female graduates.

So, why does this study matter? Well, not being front of mind for research citations or potential job opportunities can have a huge impact on both an individual’s career and in a larger sense, society as a whole. In the academic world, citation numbers arelinked to decisions in hiring and tenure opportunities, resulting in fewer prospects for career progression for women. Furthermore, on a societal level, research has shown that women are more likely than their male counterparts to study female issues. 

Therefore, if this research is being completely overlooked then a whole cohort of work with unique perspectives and insights are being missed, which can impact on treatments that are effective for women and funding to make these actually accessible to the mainstream.

All of this might sound a bitdoom and gloom for women researchers and the people they aim to serve, but there were several positive outcomes of this study.

One is that women were more likely to shout out other women in this study than in previous studies looking at similar questions, which have found a gender bias from both men AND women. The second is that we now have the data to suggest why these large gender biases occur, we can hopefully move towards bridging the gender gap. 

While this study doesn’t consider the non-binary community it’s hoped that future research will account for this population studies to ensure we’re understanding how they fit into this bias.