Gender Bias in Science Fields

In this video, Julia Wilde eloquently discusses the gendered hurdles that women face in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  The first issue relates to early socialisation in schools. Boys and girls are given different gender narratives that reproduce the stereotype that boys are “naturally” good in the sciences.

Julia also discusses various studies that have shown gender biases in the hiring practices within science faculties. Given the same information on job applications, employers will still prefer to hire men for science jobs and give them higher pay, even when a woman has the exact same qualifications and experience.

Another interesting point in this video regards the cultural myths about the type of person who can be a scientist. Society portrays scientists as having very rigid personalities which may be off-putting to some girls who have more outwardly creative and extroverted ways of expressing their thinking. On Julia’s YouTube page, you can read some articles on gender and STEM.

I’ve written extensively on this topic, focusing on the institutional practices that maintain a gender imbalance in STEM. I cite a number of research studies showing how organisations see women as the problem. Some workplaces think that women are not assertive enough in asking for job promotions. Studies have actually debunked this myth. Other people think that offering women more role models would help. These solutions are positive, but they are only tiny bits of the puzzle.

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed Google’s mentoring program for women engineers as well as putting more women on recruitment panels. Such measures of support for women are important, but they leave inequality within the broader organisation unchanged.

Research published in the Journal of American Medical Association shows that male medical researchers are paid over $12K more than women even when they have the same qualifications and when they put in the same amount of hours. These women were asking for promotions but they were being looked over simply due to their gender.

Assertiveness is not really the issue. The issue is that sciences in general reward men more generously for doing the same level of work as women. This also happens in the social sciences, not just in STEM. An ongoing study finds that women anthropologists face sexual harassment whilst conducting field research, usually at the hands of senior researchers. In History faculties, married men are promoted quicker than married women history professors.

The culture of science makes it difficult for women to forge long-term meaningful careers as they move through their different life stages. Men do not face the same problems, irrespective of age, marital status, experience and qualification.

Science labs, faculties and other research facilities need to change their culture. Scientists need training on gender equity, so they might start to recognise how their behaviour and attitudes impacts on their cisgender women colleagues and other transgender and gender diverse researchers. Science managers and senior researchers also require training on how to manage gender issues in their workplaces.

You can read more on my post about the science behind gender bias in STEM, and the effect of workplace culture.

First published on Science on Google+.