A new study in the United States is shedding light on the lack of diversity in terms of gender and race in science textbooks that are used to teach undergraduate students across the country.
After an analysis of seven leading biology textbooks currently in use to teach a majority of undergraduate biology students in the US, scientists found that just 13 percent of the scientists cited in the books were women and none of them was a woman of colour.
The researchers, led by Dr Cissy Ballen of Alabama's Auburn University, found that among the 1,000 scientists including Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel who were cited and quoted in the books, just 6.7 percent were from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.
The researchers claimed that at the current rate, bridging the disparities between the diversity of cited scientists and the students studying them would take years. As per Dr Ballen, the this disparity could have a "negative effect" on students, especially those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
"Not to be able to see anyone like them in these kinds of fundamental textbooks that they're using, I think it would have a really negative effect," Dr Ballen told the BBC.
The problem of unequal representation of women and minorities in higher education and science as well as fields like engineering, mathematics (STEM) and technology has been pointed out several times by both the scientific community as well as critics and observers.
The lack of representation of women in the fields is also in disparity with the number of women getting degrees in these fields. While women account for 53 percent of graduates from both Bachelor's' and Masters' degree courses and 43 percent of doctoral (Ph.D) graduates, only 28 percent of them make it to research. Even if they do, women have a higher rate of not pursuing their research and leaving at junior levels, possibly due to gender roles that require most women to prioritise household chores and caring for family instead of pursuing a career.
This is also true for countries like India. A NITI Ayog report 'Status of Women in Science among Select Institutions in India' finds that there are more women than ever are enrolling in the field of science. However, women do not continue in the field of science for very long.
If the representation of women was unequal to that of men, the representation of persons of colour, non-binary genders or ethnic minority backgrounds such as Asians as compared to white men was even more dismal.
In the study by Dr Ballen, researchers found that though women and contemporary scientists like Jane Goodall made it to some textbooks, no women of colour were noted among the 1,000 scientists.
When it comes to women of colour, the disparity can also be seen at the higher education level. From 173 to 2012, Quartz reported that only 66 African-American women earned doctorates in Physics across colleges in US. As many as 22,172 men earned their doctorates at the same time.
In the US, the issue has been taken up by young Black activists and researchers who recently celebrated 'Black Birders Week' to shine a light on the Black scientists and researchers in the field of natural sciences.