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.”
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- My current critique of Williams & Ceci: http://goo.gl/RtYTq2
- My previous critique of their research on STEM Women on G+ http://goo.gl/koygBM
- Supplementary critique on Ceci & Williams on DiverseScholar: http://is.gd/DS5_11
- The video by Williams, Ceci and colleagues: http://goo.gl/FaZTDt
- My comments on Williams and Ceci’s video (scroll through this thread): http://goo.gl/GsAeFF