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The Matilda Effect – In Search of the Lost Female Scientists
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The Matilda Effect – In Search of the Lost Female Scientists

Kinga Bartczak

Hello and welcome to the FemalExperts Podcast, your podcast by women, for women, about women. Today I brought you an exciting topic, because I want to talk about the so-called Matilda effect.

Here you can listen directly to the podcast:

What exactly is the Matilda effect?

The Matilda effect describes the systematic suppression and denial of the contribution of women scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues. It is named after the USwomen’s rights activist Matilda J. Gage, who was the first to describe this phenomenon in general terms at the end of the 19th century. In 1993, the term was revisited by historian of science Margaret W. Rossiter.

Matilda vs. Matthew

The Matilda effect contrasts with the so-called Matthew effect, which is a self-reinforcing accumulation of prestige. The interesting thing: Robert K. Merton, who wrote about the Matthew effect, noted that he had based himself so intensively on work by his collaborator Harriet Zuckerman that the article he subsequently published should actually have appeared under both their names. This effect still makes me think today. There are countless examples from history in which it was only years later that it became apparent that the works or pieces of music that had made men famous were either partially or even entirely penned by a woman.

Want an example of the Matilda effect? How about Pythagoras?

Probably the most famous and oldest example of the Matilda effect is the philosopher and mathematician Theano, who lived in the 6th century BC and was the wife of Pythagoras. Although she had a high share in his findings, she was not mentioned by name in any of the writings. The contributions of his daughters Myia and Damo to his publications, are also unknown.

Structural discrimination or statistical probability?

Here I must note that the Matilda effect does not represent a law according to which women are fundamentally maligned in their creative power. This is said to be more of a statistical probability that results in women being “overlooked” or ignored in their suitability. Another example is the Nobel Prize: With 83.6 percent (Nobel Prize for Peace Efforts) and 98.2 percent (Nobel Prize for Physics) awarded between 1901 and 2022 went to men(source: Statista 2022). The influence of patriarchal structures should not be underestimated here, especially considering the topics: “gender bias” and “unconcious bias”. These indicators certainly influence whether prizes or certain competencies are more likely to be awarded to men than to women.

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How do we deal with such misogynistic obstacles in the future?

The following points can help give women and girls the credit they deserve:

  1. Let’s celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11: Promoting female students, scientists, doctoral candidates in STEM subjects (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology).
  2. Greater focus on the target agreements of the universities: Working together for more family-friendliness, for example also during doctoral studies. Childcare services during exam periods and publication support are needed. “Publish or Perish” must not remain the motto in science. We should return to quality and not just focus on the number of published writings.
  3. Mentoring: I think we agree here – we all need role models. A mentoring program can be a great support for personal and professional development. As a three-time mentor myself, I experience it every day and also support the concept of reverse mentoring in my values to support each other and grow with each other.
  4. Personal Branding: I enjoy my personal connection to many colleges. I admire people who are passionate about scientific work, because their findings can change many things in our world for the better. All the more I see it as my task to help these wonderful women scientists to become visible and thereby effective. No insight in the world can change anything if it is not understood by others and thereby implemented. This makes it all the more important to have a strong positioning as a scientist, manager, employee or assistant, so that you can no longer be “overlooked”.
  5. “We grow by lifting others”: we desperately need more collaboration, across industries: whether it’s personal recommendations for a keynote, a scientific collaboration, or the opportunity to support others in their work through your own ability. This is also our claim in FemalExperts magazine. We want to give other women more visibility through articles, interviews, publishing their events or this podcast, because together we can’t be overlooked.

With this in mind, I hope that we will all want to make a collective commitment to oppose the Matilda Effect and stand up for greater visibility. I’m incredibly curious what you think about this topic and if you’ve ever experienced the Matilda Effect yourself. Feel free to get in touch with me on all popular social media channels.

Have a wonderful day.
Your Kinga

About the author

Kinga Bartczak
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Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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