A bias toward women in US college science jobs, says study

All things being equal, US colleges preferred women scientists over identically qualified men two-to-one, says a new study. 'People seem to have internalized the value of gender diversity, and are consciously or unconsciously upgrading women candidates,' says one researcher.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama laughs as Stephanie Bullock, 15, of Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, far right, explains her team's rocket design during the president's tour of the White House Science Fair, Monday, March 23, 2015, at the White House in Washington. With Bullock are Maria Haywood, 12, and Shimeeka Stanley, 14. The outlook for women getting science jobs is brighter than some expect, says a new study.

When hundreds of U.S. college faculty members rated junior scientists based on scholarly record, job interview performance and other information with an eye toward which should be hired, they preferred women over identically qualified men two-to-one, scientists reported on Monday.

The "candidates" were invented in order to see which factors - professional ones as well as things like gender and parental status - affect the evaluation of potential hires, part of an effort to explain women's underrepresentation in academic science.

The bias toward women "was totally unexpected," said psychologist and co-author Wendy Williams of Cornell University. "We were shocked."

Women have always been scarce in academic science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), now making up one-fourth of full professorships in science, engineering and health, according to the National Science Foundation.

That has been attributed to gender bias, prejudice against women who take maternity leave and other discrimination.

Recently, however, women with advanced STEM degrees have had a better chance of getting university jobs. For example, out of 96 mathematics hires from 1995 through 2003, 20 percent of applicants were women, but 32 percent of those offered jobs were female.

Some scholars have said this apparent female advantage was because women who overcome the hurdles to a STEM Ph.D. are generally stronger candidates than male counterparts.

To test that, Williams and co-author Stephen Ceci ran five related experiments. They sent descriptions of made-up job candidates in biology and psychology (where women are well represented) and economics and engineering (where they are not) to 873 faculty members at 371 colleges.

The experiments differed in, among other things, how many candidates the participants evaluated (one or three, so participants would be less likely to guess this was a men vs. women study).

Overall, even though their qualifications and characteristics were identical, women were ranked first by 67 percent of participants, the authors report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We're not saying women do not face discrimination" in academic science, Williams said. "But these data speak to a real change. People seem to have internalized the value of gender diversity, and are consciously or unconsciously upgrading women candidates."

That contradicts a 2012 study in which academics gave higher ratings to hypothetical job candidates with male names than those with female names (and identical resumes).

Their findings, Williams and Ceci wrote, suggest "it is a propitious time for women" entering academic science.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.