Gender Bias in Science Hiring

I’ve been quoted in this article in the New Scientist concerning the critique of a new study that argues women are not disadvantaged in science hiring. Please read it as Lisa Grossman has included excellent discussion by scientists Katie Mack and Lucianne Walkowicz addressing why talking about inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is necessary for increased equality and diversity.

“Williams and Ceci do not have data to support how scientists rank potential candidates,” writes sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos. “They have produced data about how scientists respond to a study about gender bias in academia, when they can easily guess that gender bias is being observed.”

Background

Psychology professors Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci published a widely-shared opinion piece on CNN (http://goo.gl/jHq8Oi) based on their own study published in PNAS (http://goo.gl/lh26eg). On my blog, I show that the researchers have used a flawed methodology to measure hiring practices and they do not address how sexism is impacted by race, sexuality, disability and other socio-economic markers (http://goo.gl/RtYTq2).

Williams and Ceci’s data in this study, as well as their previous research, actually show that women are under-represented, but the researchers argue this is not due to discrimination and bias, but rather because women are “self-selecting” to leave science, or that they choose to not put themselves forward for jobs. This ignores the context in which women are hired, which does not simply begin at the hiring stage.

Flawed methods

In this most recent study, Williams and Ceci sent out an email survey to a randomised sample of over 2,000 faculty members in the USA. They had a 34% response rate, meaning their final sample was over 700 faculty. As with all survey research, the sample only includes people who are willing to participate in the study, and they may not reflect the broader sub-population of people who actually serve on hiring committees. Williams and Ceci say they have addressed self-selection bias of their sample by conducting two control experiments. In one, they sent out surveys to only 90 psychology faculty who were paid $25 for participation. They had 91% response rate (82 agreed to participate). The rest of the sample was not paid for their time.

Using psychologists as a control group is not a true reflection of gender bias in broader STEM fields as this discipline has a higher level of awareness about gender issues, as gender is a central concept of study. The other control study involved 35 engineering faculty who responded to hypothetical applicants’ CVs. This material is a better simulation for what we usually review when we are considering a candidate pool. Nevertheless, the rest of the sample – over 500 participants – were asked to rate three candidates based on short vignettes supposedly written by a hypothetical hiring committee chair, commenting on the candidates’ credentials and family situation. This is not how academics are hired. 

Academics are hired on the basis of their CV and response to selection criteria, as well as supporting evidence like letters of recommendation, teaching evaluations, publications, grants record and so on. It is the CV and application material that gets a potential candidate an interview; the interviewee sits before a panel; individual panellists make notes which are then deliberated upon; and the committee makes a decision together. To suggest that reading a short narrative that looks nothing like the real-world context in which hiring panels make decisions is flawed logic. 

Gender Bias

Williams and Ceci are both White tenured professors (meaning that their jobs as senior academics are secure, unlike an increasing number of casual roles). This is the second time that Williams and Ceci have published an article claiming that sexism is over in the academy. The first was published in The New York Times. 

In a video for their last study, the authors admit that their research is motivated by a desire to prove the literature on inequality wrong. Williams, a White woman, even says that she thinks sexism impacted her early career decades a go, but that sexism is no longer a factor. That’s an easy thing to say when you are White and you have achieved tenure at a time when tenure was more hospitable.

As I discuss on my blog, a comprehensive 30-year study shows that White women have made the greatest gains under affirmative action policies, and that minority women have reaped very little from historical diversity policies. It’s time for change.

To overcome gender inequality, we need more senior people contributing to increasing the inclusion and participation of not just of White women, but also of women of colour, migrant women, transgender women, queer and lesbian women, women living with disabilities, and every other group in between who is marginalised.

References

  • PNAS, “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” http://goo.gl/ikSQPN
  • PNAS, “Elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women” http://goo.gl/LmNDHA
  • Sex Roles, “The Impact of Gender on the Review of the Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study” (study on psychologists) http://goo.gl/QvKHqA
  • Zevallos, Samarasinghe & Rao for Nature Soapbox Science, “Nature vs Nurture: Girls and STEM: http://goo.gl/C4LmgB
  • Zevallos for STEM Women on G+. What is sexism and how does it work in STEM? http://goo.gl/xHksey

For further discussion of the literature, see the references in these articles

31 thoughts on “Gender Bias in Science Hiring


  1. So because women CHOOSE not to go into STEM fields that is inequality? Let me guess, i bet you think however men CHOOSING not to go into nursing or teaching or fashion ISN’T inequality, it’s just their choice. It’s amazing to me that choice varies by gender.


    Women have every opportunity men have get into STEM fields. If they CHOOSE to do something else, that’s their CHOICE, not automatic inequality.

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  2. I mean you want women to have STEM jobs 50-50. But if a lower amount of women CHOOSE not to go into STEM fields – than that means IF those jobs are represented equally by women then you are promoting inequality.


    I mean you sit here and #diversity. What a crock. Imagine if men demanded absolute equality in modeling. Or fashion. Or teaching. Close to 90% of the teachers are women. Why aren’t you fighting for #diversity there? SMH

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  3. MJ Bennett​​ You absolutely have not read the article, but nice try with your vague hand-waving reference to “pros and cons.” The moral indignation you’ve feigned for men in fields where women are better represented numerically is a false dichotomy: you don’t actually care about gender inequity because if you did you would already know that even in these fields where there are less likely to be employed, men are disproportionately employed in senior roles and better paid. As for the role of “choice” that women have in pursuing STEM I write about this often using science, not uninformed subjective ideals, as you do. Read my past posts or see my series in the journal DiversityScholar.


    No need to hide your misogyny behind the idea of trying to “make your voice heard;” the world already caters to angry White men who stand in the way of diversity in STEM. Thankfully active allies like Chad Haney​​ and others show why it’s important to speak out against the status quo.


    My parting advice to you is: don’t fear women. Get educated about why increasing the contribution of women from diverse backgrounds benefits innovation and scientific progress. 

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  4. Of every single need of Life as One


    Sex is not One of them


    That sex is a issue is the damnation of man


    This mankind will perish of as too kill as too sex thus man’s extinction is upon him


    That no matter the amount of time his existence was nothing more than Barbarians


    That this Peaceful Earth now rides its Self of that Life Be Known as Good


    No more will man rule but his own lip that he submit Now or Die i do not walk lightly

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  5. Unfortunately, being nice to people is not quite the issue here – it’s about recognising the need to reflect on how gender bias affects outcomes in science. The study I’ve discussed had a flawed framework which only serves to reproduce misinformation. We need solid methodologies to measure and address gender inequity.

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  6. Andy Bruce Your personal observations about girls in your school don’t match the empirical evidence. Girls outperform boys in maths and in many STEM subjects. The issue is not lack of interest on girls’ behalf, but institutional barriers and sexist attitudes. I’ve linked to various sources showing this, including in my article here: http://goo.gl/C4LmgB

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  7. Carlos Jimenez​ Everyone wins with feminism. Feminism is a set of theories and activism that fights for gender equity.


    Your personal feed is full of misogyny and homophobia suggesting a world of equity frightens you. Feminism will free you from such unnecessary fear of social justice. Have a read of bell hook’s “Feminism is for everyone.”

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  8. Im laughing because carlos is right you feminist love using words like equality and misogyny I find it hilarious…… you said social justice don’t you think your melodramatic? but that’s typical of women especially your breed….. chances are you’ll fail at making as much as men in your field and you’ll never be happy lol. DICK POWER!!!

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