Miss. Marketing

For those who are unfamiliar with the research world, there's much more to working in a lab than simply sitting at a bench playing with test tubes.  A large portion as to why research is so expensive can be attributed to equipment and materials used when working with said test tubes.  This is where companies, such as QIAGEN, come in to lend a "helping hand".  QIAGEN is especially a big deal for we molecular biologists.

So there I was, minding my own business, in hot pursuit of answering some questions that had popped up while I was using one of QIAGEN's many standardized kits.  My first thought was to go directly to the source (http://www.qiagen.com/) and contact them with the questions I was still having difficulty resolving on my own.  I go to the front page and what do I see?  3/5 of the ads displayed are portraying women, 1/5 portraying men, and 1/5 portraying neither.  Now, if anyone is an advocate for women in science it's this female, but let's do some number crunching first:

3/5 = 60%

I don't want to make up statistics, but I know off the top of my head that this is an incorrect representation of the truth.  What is the truth?   I tried to find publications that included well-rounded surveys of women in molecular science, but that didn't amount to much.  Instead, here's the next best thing I could think of (strong encouragement to comment below if you can find more) - I went to UNH's Department of Molecular, Cellular, & Biomedical Sciences faculty webpage.  According to US News Education, the UNH Department of MCBS is ranked mid-level amongst colleges nationwide.  Therefore, I thought doing a quick male :: female ratio of faculty in the department would be a more or less reasonable estimation of males :: females overall in the molecular sciences.  Here is the result:

42 MCBS faculty; 20/42 (48%) female

Wow, not bad!...right?  I was impressed by this statistic, but also skeptical, so I decided to take a closer look -- I went ahead and read each research biography and noticed that nearly 100% of those described as studying nutrition are women.  Now, not to discredit nutrition, but if we re-do the calculations only to include research biographies containing the central fields that define molecular biology (biology, chemistry, genetics, biochemistry) the result is as follows:

26 MCBS faculty; 9/26 (35%) female

Still not horrible, but definitely nowhere near 60%

Okay, what gives Sabah, why is this something worth getting worked up about?  Maybe QIAGEN is trying to encourage more women into the molecular sciences via advertisement...MAYBE.  

The more likely answer is that this is all a part of a marketing ploy to, literally, make the products being sold appear more attractive (1).  And, therefore, more desirable.  Here is an excerpt from the documentary series Killing Us Softly  to extrapolate:  


Here's the homepage advertisement when you first access QIAGEN's website:

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 2.35.56 PM.png

What is this woman even doing?  She's not figuring out the chemical bonds behind the helical structure of the DNA on the computer screen, she's not conducting an experiment, she's staring straight at you and "looking pretty".  So that's my problem, I suppose.  That's my frustration.  I think it's fantastic to have women featured in advertising, especially research advertising, but at least have us doing something intelligent...?  Maybe then, the ratio will be more equally distributed in the work force.


1. Jacobsen MF, Mazur LA (1995) Sexism and Sexuality in Advertising. Marketing madness: A survival guide for a consumer society: 74 - 87.


Thoughts, comments, questions, confusions?