Following a discussion with a friend on the subject of women in science, and in physics in particular, I have looked up some recent data from the American Institute of Physics, specifically their 2005 survey of “more than 1350 women physicists from more than 70 countries […] cover[ing] women physicists’ experiences in education and careers”.
There is one thing about this study that I find odd. I assume that one of its aims was to address gender inequities in physics careers; however, no comparison is attempted of corresponding data for women and men, which renders the scope of the study limited, and the interpretation of some of the data ambiguous.
For example, Table 14 shows percentages of women physicists who express dissatisfaction with some specific aspects of their profession (availability of funding for research and travel, office and lab space, equipment and clerical support); data are broken down by geography (developing versus developed countries) but it would have been interesting to compare them to those for men (which I would expect to be available). Without such a comparison, assessing the significance of these percentages vis-a-vis gender is problematic.
Anecdotal evidence is presented, regarding discriminatory attitudes toward women, 65% of whom identify “discrimination”, and 80% “attitude toward women” as aspects that need improvement (Table 18 ).
On the other hand, 43% of women surveyed identify “climate for women” as one of the reason for being “discouraged” about physics (Table 17); the interesting aspect here is that this is the only woman-specific reason cited in the table, and is not ranked highest. All the other reasons (interaction with colleagues, family obligations, personal life, research and funding) affect men as well, for whom, again, similar data are not reported.
Moreover, 78% of women report either an “excellent” or “good” relationship with their advisors (Table 6); this would seem a fairly high percentage in any case, but again it loses much of its significance without a comparison of percentages reported by men.
 Here, it is not clear to what extent these percentages are peculiar of physics, i.e., whether similar percentages may be found in other professional sectors.