Who Are The Top Women Scientists Globally – And Why Don’t We Know Them?

Pamela Connellan
on November 7, 2022

Last month, Research.com released the 1st edition of the annual ranking of the top female scientists in the world with the aim being to inspire female scholars and women considering a career in science – and also to publish their names so the general public is aware of these top ranking scientists.

By conducting this ranking of the top female scientists in the world, Research.com hopes to give these women in science more recognition in an effort to provide more opportunities – and equal chances – for women working in science all around the world.

Imed Bouchrika Phd, Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content at Research.com said about the annual ranking: “We are painfully aware that academic research is still a predominantly male profession, and we believe that female scientists deserve an equal chance to be represented and praised for their achievements. This ranking for top female scientists in the world finally acknowledges the hard work of all the female scientists that chose to find opportunities amidst the barriers. Their passion to persevere is an inspiration to all the girls and women in science. But challenges remain.”

Here’s the full ranking for the 2022 list of Top Female Scientists in the World:


A ranking in recognition of female scientists worldwide

For the 2022 edition of the ranking, more than 166,880 scientist profiles across 24 research disciplines on Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Graph were examined with several indicators and metrics reviewed in order to consider each scientist’s inclusion in the ranking.

The h-index threshold for approving a scholar to be considered was set differently for each scientific discipline but was in most cases equal to 30 or 40. The inclusion criteria for scholars to be considered for the ranking of top female scientists are based on their h-index, the proportion of contributions made within the given discipline, and the awards and achievements of the scientists.

Key findings from the 2022 edition of the World Ranking of Female Scientists

  • Scientists from the United States dominate the list of top female scientists in the world with 623 scholars from this country being ranked in 2022 (62.3% of the whole ranking).
  • Other countries leading the ranking of top female scientists in the world are the UK (96 scientists or 9.6%), and Germany (42 scientists or 4.2%).
  • Eight out of 10 female scientists in the top 1% are from the United States.
  • The best female scientists in the world are publishing their work predominantly in the field of medicine.
  • Harvard University is the leader of the 2022 edition of the top female scientists in the world ranking, with 40 leading female scholars affiliated with that institution.
  • The best female scientist in the world is Professor JoAnn E. Manson from Harvard Medical School, known for her pioneering research in the fields of epidemiology and women’s health.
  • American universities constitute 90% of the top 10 leading institutions with the highest number of leading female scientists, with the only other institution among them being Oxford University (ranked 6th).
  • The average number of publications for top female scientists is 547.

Countries with the Top Female Scientists

In absolute values, female scientists from the United States dominate the list with 623 scholars included in 2022 which represents 62.3% of the whole ranking. Eight out of 10 scientists in the top 1% are from the United States. The United Kingdom ranks second with 96 scientists. The third spot was taken by Germany, which currently has 42 scientists in the ranking.

The other leading countries are Australia with 36 scientists, France with 32 scientists, Canada with 31 scientists, the Netherlands with 24 scientists, and Italy with 19 scholars.

When compared with a ranking of the top leading scientists without gender distinctions the top six countries are still the same. However, Japan makes a huge jump from just one scientist in the top females ranking to 16 in the gender-agnostic ranking (giving them the 9th spot in the world), suggesting a still predominantly male academic environment among the top scholars in that country.

Please note that the country associated with a scientist is based on their affiliated research institution according to MAG, not on their actual nationality.

Institutions with the Top Female Scientists

In the 2022 edition of our ranking, Harvard University is the top institution with 40 female scientists included in the ranking. Following the top position is the National Institutes of Health with 34 scientists, with Stanford University occupying third place with 28 scientists.

American universities and institutions constitute 90% of the top 10 leading institutions except for Oxford University at the sixth spot.

Two out of 10 institutions affiliated with the top 1% of leading scientists are based outside the US. These spots are occupied by a scientist from deCODE Genetics in Iceland who holds the fifth rank, and a scientist from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands who secured the sixth spot.

Institutions play a crucial role in the growth and advancement of female researchers as they enact policies that improve workplace diversity. Gender discrimination, after all, is not just confined to gender stereotyping. Rather, it also comes in the form of a lack of pay transparency and denial of parental leave, which takes a toll on women as having a family disproportionately affects them.

Promoting STEM to address the under-representation of women in science is another important step being taken by forward-thinking institutions today. By establishing diverse role models in science and supporting extracurricular STEM programs, a positive association between girls and science is formed even at an early age.

Scientific Disciplines Represented by the Top Female Scientists

The best female scientists in the world are predominantly publishing their work in the field of medicine, with 468 (46.8%) of ranked scholars having the majority of their publications in that area.

Other popular areas of research among female scholars are physics (10.4%), genetics and molecular biology (8.7%), and biology and biochemistry (8.2%).

Five out of 10 female scholars in the top 1% of our ranking publish predominantly in the field of medicine, while the other disciplines represented in the top 1% are genetics and molecular biology, psychology, physics, and neuroscience.

Based on a study by an organisation that promotes science to girls and women through social media, female graduate and postdoctoral researchers are currently engaged in Biological Sciences (42%), Earth, Space, and Ocean Sciences (22%), and Physical Sciences (8%). The research notes that female earth and ocean scientists in the US now earn more doctorates than their male peers.

Though in trickles, the global research landscape is changing. In releasing this annual list of the top 1000 female scientists, our intention is to highlight the fact that given the right opportunity, female researchers have a place in any scientific discipline.

Gender bias in research

Imed continued in a full statement from Research.com that the predominantly masculine environment of academic research still has an unconscious bias towards men in authorship and so this list of the top female scientists signals a milestone. As Imed wrote: “For years, the key factors perpetuating gender bias such as male-dominated culture and gender stereotypes influenced academic research. And since women often need to cope with both family and work responsibilities, their research careers are often impaired due to a lack of support.”

Research shows that across the world, about 33% of people employed in science research are female with the highest numbers in Central Asia at 48.5% and the lowest in South and West Asia at 23.1%. One recent study established that women researchers are indeed credited less than men. Relative to their male peers, women are less likely to be named on a patent or article, and their contributions are often unacknowledged. Among graduate students, female researchers have a 14.97% chance of getting an attribution, while for men the chance is higher at 21.47%.

chance of getting an attribution

This misrepresentation and bias against women, as observed by anthropologist, Professor Treena Orchard from Western University, London, Ontario in Canada, “reflects the deep gender inequities within the male-driven industry of science that has traditionally excluded and devalued the contributions of women.

Professor Orchard, who conducts research on sexuality, gender, and the politics of health among marginalised groups, believes gender inequality is a problem which hasn’t improved much and is very pronounced in the pay gaps between male and female academics which go as high as 18% even when the academics have the same level of expertise.

The Matilda Effect is ongoing

She also says that despite their advancements in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, women have not been represented enough in science. Professor Orchard said In the global research landscape, every female scientist knows the Matilda Effect and perhaps has experienced it at some point in their career.

The Matilda Effect was first described in 1870 by suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage who, in her book Woman As An Inventor, challenged the common assertion that women “possess no inventive… or mechanical genius.” From this, the term Matilda Effect was coined later on by Cornell University historian of Science Margaret Rossiter to indicate the denial of recognition of women scientists.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon still exists in the 21st century. For example, the role of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of the DNA, and more recently, in the history and commercial use of CRISPR-Cas9, and the concern of Jennifer Doudna on her role, including that of her female colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier being relegated, cannot be ignored.

The under-representation of women in science prevails

So, we see the under-representation of women in science prevails. But at the same time, we need to recognise there are psychosocial factors which need to be addressed to solve this systemic gender inequality.

Among studies conducted, one common theme which consistently appears is the fact that women in STEM have lower social capital. As Dr Alex Krawiec, an economist, whose research on leadership and organisational change focuses particularly on women’s presence in top hierarchies, believes this lack of support and bias against women is deeply embedded in our culture and institutions. Since the scientific community is part of the larger society, personal values and beliefs often influence the perception of women. 

For Dr Krawiec says if we’re to change this narrative, we have to start with social and organisational culture and she says the academic world is still bureaucratic and rigid which means the problem persists. She adds: “… when it comes to opportunities, women will always be at a disadvantage because of our biological wiring. We cannot completely eliminate all obstacles, but we can make some adjustments to the system to allow women to enter the opportunity fair.”

Huang et. al. (2019) conducted a longitudinal study of gender differences in scientific careers and disciplines. They argue that while gender disparities are well documented across all disciplines and countries, the evidence is fragmented. By getting a comprehensive picture of the publishing history of 1.5 million gender-identified authors, the team identified that differences in publishing career lengths and dropout rates explain a large portion of the inequalities between male and female researchers in the field of science. As such, both institutions and policymakers play a crucial role in addressing these differences.

share of male authors vs. female authors in select discplines

H-Index Ranking: Leaders, Averages and Distribution

In terms of the impact of a particular female scientist or the h-index, Professor JoAnn E. Manson from Harvard Medical School is at the top of the list for North America. She also leads the top 1000 list. Her h-index is 308, which makes her the eighth-best scientist in the gender-agnostic global ranking and the highest-ranking female scholar.

Professor Unnur Thorsteinsdottir from deCODE Genetics, Iceland tops the list for Europe, placing fifth in the world ranking with an h-index of 212. She is also the highest-ranking scientist from Iceland in the gender-agnostic global ranking.

For Oceania, Professor Louisa Degenhardt from the University of New South Wales in Australia leads the list of female scientists in the region. She holds the 89th spot in the world ranking.

Professor Bin Liu from the National University of Singapore tops the list for Asia with an h-index of 152. In the world ranking, she is at number 92.

The top female scientist in Africa is Professor R. Cherkaoui El Moursli from Mohammed V University in Morocco who holds the 99th spot in the top 1000 list.

Finally, for South America, Professor Maria-Teresa Dova from the National University of La Plata in Argentina is the top scientist and is also ranked number 171 among female scientists across the globe.

The average h-index for the top 1% of scientists is 221 against an average of 119 for the top 1000 female scientists included in the ranking. The scholar with the lowest index value who made it to the ranking in 2022 has an h-index of 97. The average number of published articles for the top 1% of scientists in the ranking is 1075 against an average of 547 for the top 1000 female scholars.

For the top 1% of scientists, the average number of citations is 214,820 against an average of 66,280 for the top 1000 female scholars. The most frequently cited female scientist is JoAnn E. Manson from Harvard Medical School with 362,689 citations.

Female Scientists Defying Boundaries

The release of the 1st edition of the annual ranking for top female scientists in the world sends a signal to institutions that STEM initiatives to close the gender gap are slowly gaining momentum. From 1993 to 2019, the number of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher working in Science and Engineering occupations almost tripled from 755 (1993) to 2,193 (2019).

In a male-dominated environment, female scientists continue to face several challenges including gender-based stereotypes, gendered organizational culture, struggle with work-life balance, and lack of mentors. However, these women scientists consistently made a conscious choice to focus on learning and building their skills and capabilities, while at the same time looking for opportunities to learn and grow. They are aware of the barriers but responded through impression management and by being proactive, while at the same time taking steps to remove the barriers that impede their advancement as female scientists.

While some reacted with resignation, these top 1000 female scientists displayed equanimity. They recognized the hurdles but still focused on creating new paths and empowering other women scientists to pursue research in any science discipline of their choice. Today, women make up 40% of physical scientists in the US. Among life scientists, 48% are women, and for mathematical workers, the share is 47%. From 15% in 2016, the share of women working as atmospheric and research scientists significantly increased to 24% in 2019.

In terms of providing fair opportunities, Dr. Krawiec mentioned the dedicated funding schemes for women, maternity leave incentives, as well as satellite events at conferences, as some of the positive developments that extend equal access to women. However, she notes that these initiatives are still insufficient to address both old and current issues. More needs to be done.

To be sure, it is not enough to have more female scientists to achieve gender equity in the research field. Dr. Orchard underscores the lack of women in significant leadership positions, including the male-driven culture that continues to maintain its grip on how science is funded and what gets published and merited, as major obstacles for women in science. In addition, the manner in which scientific research is represented not just in academic circles but to the general public often highlights the bias against women.

While challenges still remain, the number of women researchers starting their publishing careers in life sciences increased from 38.8% in 1991 to 55.7% in 2021. For physical and earth sciences, female research doctorate recipients also jumped from 19.2% to 35.1% within the same period. In addition, as of 2019, women make up 27% of STEM workers in the US. which is a huge gain from 8% in 1970. As more women choose to pursue scientific research, it is with great hope that we look forward to publishing our annual list in the years to come until such time that the gap is no longer visible and female scientists are on an equal footing with all scientists across the globe.

About Research.com: All research was coordinated by Imed Bouchrika, PhD, a computer scientist with an established record of collaboration on a number of international research projects with different partners from the academic community. His role was to make sure all data remained unbiased, accurate, and up-to-date. Research.com is the number one research portal for science rankings. The organisation’s mission is to make it easier for professors, research fellows and those studying for a PhD or a master’s degree to progress with their research. Research.com is also involved in the publication of an annual ranking of leading scientists in a wide range of scientific disciplines.

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