This page attempts to chart the number and percentage of works written by women that have been nominated for Hugo awards in the fiction categories.
After the graph and the table, this page contains some further notes about the history and future of nominated works by women.
My numbers here are probably somewhat flawed, due to methodology issues; for details, see notes below.
Two specific flaws:
- In most cases, I’m guessing author gender based on given name and/or pronouns, rather than asking the authors explicitly about their genders.
- When I compiled most of this data, I was taking a binarist view of gender; I didn’t consider non-binary genders at all. At least one nominated non-binary author isn’t represented here, because I focused on women per se. I haven’t yet decided how best to include non-binary authors in this data, but I hope to do so.
Graph and table
The following graph and table include data only from the non-series prose Hugo fiction categories: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story. (And, in earlier years, Best Short Fiction.) They don’t include data from series categories, nor from the YA award.
Here's a graph of the percentage of works by women, by year:
And here’s a table giving more details:
1 I’m counting Tiptree as a woman, even though she wasn’t publicly known to be a woman until 1977.
2 In 1989, 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.
3 2014 was the first year of the Sad Puppies slate, which probably explains the drop there. 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 female 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 would've 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 recent years.)
4 I don't know the gender of S. Harris, and the gender of Chuck Tingle isn’t publicly known (though he 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.
5 A work by a non-binary author was also nominated in 2018. That work is not included in the number I gave here for works by women.
It might be interesting to correlate the above data with numbers about percentages of works by women published in a given year, and reviewed in a given year, and with nominator turnout each year, and so on. But that would be a big database project that I don't have time to put together.
I used to have a comment here talking about trends I saw in the data; for example, the average from 1991 through 2001 is significantly higher than the average from 2002 through 2009. But on looking at the full range of data, I now think that the trends depend a great deal on what ranges of years you look at; I'm not convinced that there are any clear patterns in the overall data set.
It's also worth noting that in a field of only about 20 works each year (and a lot less in some years), every work by a woman is about a 5% difference (or sometimes more). So the difference between, for example, 19% (2002) and 24% (2001) is a difference of only one work. Some people have tried to get around the noisy-data problem by aggregating numbers by decade, but I feel that that ends up obscuring important information about the two spikes in the graph, in the early 1990s and in the 2010s; those spikes correlate with enough other things that I think they're real and not just noise.
Some historical notes
- The last year when there were no fiction works by women on the ballot at all was 1971.
- 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.
Ways to improve things
It's been great in recent years to see more works by women being nominated. I wrote the following when works by women were still rarely getting as much as 50% of the nominations.
Various approaches might help continue to improve things, 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, 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.