NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) is Canada’s funding council for, well, natural sciences and engineering. And each year they recognize the crème de la crème of Canadian scientific & engineering research. Sort of.

It really helps to be a guy.

I first got riled up about this issue in 2013 (which, shockingly, is 5 years ago), at a time when no woman had ever been awarded the Herzberg Medal, colloquially known as the prize for ’Canada’s Top Scientist’. This changed in 2015, but has since resumed it’s male pattern blindness.

In fact, in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, women were recognizes with 0% (!!!), 13%, 17%, and 19% of the prizes awarded. Hey, a positive trend! </scarcasm>

And I want to highlight that these are not competitive grants for which there is an application, but a nomination process meant to recognize excellence in Canadian scientific & engineering research.

After the first year, NSERC reached out in the comments to highlight that they took diversity seriously, and pointed to several initiatives. But this has not yet manifested in the upper echelons, clearly. So much so that one could easily refer to the organization as MENSERC.

So where do we stand with the 2017 awards announced recently?

  • Herzberg Medal (“Canada’s top scientist”): man (only one woman has ever won this award, and it was in 2015)
  • Polyani Award: man
  • Brockhouse Canada Prize: 6 men
  • Synergy Award for Innovation: 4 men
  • E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships: 3 men, 3 women
  • Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research: 1 man, 1 woman

For those keeping track at home, that’s 4/20 women winners, or 20%. The positive trend continues! </more sarcasm>

As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. I have no idea what goes in behind the shrouded curtain of NSERC deliberations when it comes to these awards, but something is clearly not working.

Meg Duffy has kept tabs on the US NSFs Waterman Award, with similar results. The comments on that post are particularly good, including the response from NSF.

There is also this article in Nature on the under-representation of women in the worlds national science academies.

So while NSERC is by no means an outlier, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t do better.