Hugo stats: author gender, fiction categories

This page attempts to chart the genders of authors whose work has been nominated for Hugo awards in the fiction categories.

(This page used to be focused exclusively on the number of women authors of such work, but that was coming from a gender-binarist viewpoint. In 2020, I’m trying to reframe this data with an awareness of the growing number of non-binary authors whose work is appearing on the ballot.)

Methodology and flaws

My methodology consists of looking at the lists of Hugo-nominated works for each year in the Speculative Fiction Awards Database, and attempting to determine the gender of the author of each nominated work in the fiction categories.

I look only at the non-series prose Hugo fiction categories: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story. (And, in earlier years, Best Short Fiction.) I don’t include series categories, nonfiction categories, non-prose categories, person-based (rather than work-based) categories, the Lodestar award, etc.

In a given year, I count two works by the same author as two separate items. That is, I’m looking at the number of works in a given year, not the number of distinct authors.

If a given work has two authors of different genders, then I count that work as being half in one author-gender category and half in another.

My numbers here are probably somewhat flawed, due to methodology issues. A couple of specific flaws:

  • In most cases, I’m guessing author gender based on pronouns (where available) or on given name, rather than asking the authors explicitly about their genders. It seems likely that I’ve guessed wrong in some cases, especially in the earlier decades covered here.
  • I’ve categorized authors into three categories: men, women, and non-binary people. I recognize that those categories are oversimplified; there are lots of genders that that classification system leaves out. And a person can be (for example) simultaneously both non-binary and a woman; also, some people have fluid gender identities that shift over time. I’m hoping that for the time being, these three categories are sufficient to show useful and interesting data about changes over the history of the awards. But I may be wrong about that.

Graph and table

Here’s a graph of the percentage of nominated works by authors of each of the gender groupings that I’m looking at, by year:

And here’s the same data in table form, with links to the Speculative Fiction Awards Database for each year:

Notes for specific years

I’m counting Tiptree as a woman, though she was widely believed to be a man at the time (and though some might argue that Tiptree was a trans man).
One of the originally announced nominations was later deleted. I can’t find info on the gender of one of the authors, but since the nomination became unofficial anyway, I just left it out of my count.
2014 was the first year of the Sad Puppies slate, which probably explains the drop in percent-by-women in that year. 2015 was the year when the Rabid Puppies controlled most of the ballot; only one RP nominee in the fiction categories was written by a woman, and only two other fiction works by women authors made it past the slate onto the ballot. Going by nominating numbers, if the Puppies hadn’t provided a slate, then the alternate-history ballot might have had 10 works by women out of 18 total, or 56% works by women. (I’m not counting the two short stories that, according to my calculations, wouldn’t have made the ballot due to the 5% rule.) We can’t know for sure what the ballot would’ve looked like without the slates, but the percentage on the alternate ballot is much more in keeping with the trend in previous years.)
I don’t know the gender of S. Harris or of Chuck Tingle (though Tingle has made in-character statements that indicate that he’s male). I’m counting them both as male here, but I don’t know for sure.
The Deep is listed on the ballot as being by Rivers Solomon, “with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes.” My impression is that Solomon is the author of the novella, but that the novella was inspired by the clipping. song of the same title, which was written by the other three people. So I’m counting the novella as having one non-binary author, rather than 1/4 non-binary and 3/4 male.

Further thoughts

It might be interesting to correlate the above data with numbers about percentages of works by various genders of authors that have been published and reviewed in a given year, and with nominator turnout each year, and with other statistics. But that would be a big database project that I don’t have time to put together.

My opinions about trends in the data have changed over time. I originally framed my interpretation around the idea that there were a couple of outlier spikes in the percentages by women (in the early 1990s and in the early 2010s); then for a few years I felt like there were no clear patterns in the overall data set; but looking at the chart now (in 2020), I would say that if you ignore the years from 1998 through 2009 (or so) and the year 2015, the percentage by women has been clearly trending upward for a long time, and the percentage by men has been clearly trending downward. The percentage by non-binary people is too small and too new for me to have any ideas about trends there.

It’s worth noting that in a field of only about 20 works each year, every work counts for about 5% of the total. So the difference between, for example, 19% by women (2002) and 24% by women (2001) is a difference of only one work. Some people have tried to get around this data-granularity problem by aggregating numbers by decade, but I feel that that approach ends up obscuring important information.

Some historical milestones

  • The last year when there were no fiction works by women on the ballot was 1971. The last year when there were no fiction works by non-binary people was 2017. There has never yet been a year with no fiction works by men on the ballot.
  • The first pieces of fiction by women to appear on a Hugo ballot were Zenna Henderson’s “Captivity,” Pauline Ashwell’s “Unwillingly to School,” and Katherine MacLean & Charles V. De Vet’s “Second Game,” all in 1959, the first year that there was a separate nominating ballot. (Before that, there were no nominees as such, only winners, according to Wikipedia.)
  • The first fiction work by a woman to win a Hugo was Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in 1970.

My old notes on ways to improve things

When I first created this page, women authors rarely got as much as 50% of the fiction nominations. At the time, there was a lot of discussion of that fact as a problem, and debate over how best to fix the problem.

But now, in 2020, seven of the last ten years have had more than 50% women authors, and the other three of those years were heavily Puppy-influenced. I assume that there are still plenty of gender imbalances in publishing and reviewing, but I no longer see the percentage of women authors among Hugo fiction nominees as being a problem that needs to be fixed.

But for historical purposes, I’m leaving the rest of this section intact. I may remove it at some future time.

Various approaches might help continue to improve the gender ratios here, such as:

  • Help get more girls interested in reading and writing science fiction and fantasy, and/or in math and science.
  • If you’re a female writer, write and submit more.
  • If you’re an editor, regardless of your own gender, stretch your editorial boundaries and see if that results in your publishing more works by women.
  • Read more works by women, if you don’t already. (Thanks to Liz H for pointing out that I hadn’t included this on my original list.)
  • Recommend more works by women, in places where people are looking for recommendations.
  • Become a Worldcon member and nominate more works by women (but only the ones you consider awardworthy, of course). It’s not free, but the cost of a supporting membership may be more than offset by the value of the free works in the Hugo voter packet.
  • Join Broad Universe.

Note: I’m not advocating quotas, lowering standards, or anything of the sort; the approaches I’m suggesting are part of a long ongoing discussion of ways to get more female authors published and recognized in the field. See, for example, my 2006 entry on gender bias and sf.

History of this page

After various discussions of the number of works by women nominated for Hugo awards in the fiction categories, I wrote a journal entry in 2007 that discussed the issue and provided some stats.

I wanted to keep the stats up-to-date without going back and changing that journal entry, so I moved the stats to this separate page.

In May of 2016, I discovered that I had made several mistakes in my numbers here; in a couple of cases, I had included nominees that had been withdrawn, and in several cases, I had put the number of nominees by men in the total column. I believe I’ve now corrected all those mistakes; apologies.

In April of 2020, I finally added a count of non-binary authors to this page, which led me to reframe much of the page.