Scientists Not Immune From Gender Bias
Hypothesis: Scientists have a superior ability to root out gender bias in their labs because they are trained to rigorously reject subjective criteria.
Experimental result: Naaahhh.
Yale University researchers asked 127 scientists to review a job application of identically qualified male and female students and found that the faculty membersóboth men and womenóconsistently scored a male candidate higher on a number of criteria such as competency and were more likely to hire the male. The result came as no surprise to Jo Handelsman, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB), a leading microbiologist, and national expert on science education, who is a co-author of the study.
"Whenever I give a talk that mentions past findings of implicit gender bias in hiring, inevitably a scientist will say that can't happen in our labs because we are trained to be objective. I had hoped that they were right," said Handelsman, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor.
So Handelsman; Victoria L. Brescoll, assistant professor of organizational behavioral at the Yale School of Management; and Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a postdoctoral associate in MCDB and psychology, as well as colleagues in social psychology decided to test whether this bias among researchers might help explain why fewer women than men have careers in science. They provided about 200 academic researchers with an application from a senior undergraduate student ostensibly applying for a job as lab manager. The faculty participants all received the same application, which was randomly assigned a male or female name. The faculty were asked to judge the applicants' competency, how much they should be paid, and whether or not they would be willing to mentor the student.
In the end, scientists responded no differently than other groups tested for bias. Both men and women science faculty were more likely to hire the male, ranked him higher in competency, and were willing to pay him $4,000 more than the woman. They were also more willing to provide mentoring to the male than to the female candidate.
"Faculty members' bias was independent of their gender, scientific discipline, age, and tenure status," said Brescoll. "They also reported liking the female student more than the male student, which all suggests that the bias is likely unintentional and appears to be generated from enduring cultural stereotypes about women's lack of science competence that translates into biases in student evaluation and mentoring."
"I think this shows just how subtle and pervasive these cultural stereotypes are," Moss-Racusin said. "There has been a feeling that women are underrepresented in the sciences because of personal or lifestyle choices, but it is clear that gender bias is also present."
"Science faculty's subtle gender biases favors male students" is published the week of Sept. 24 in Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America. Other Yale authors are John F. Dovidio and Mark J. Graham.
Victoria L. Brescoll is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. Her research focuses on the impact of stereotypes on individuals' status within organizations, particularly the status of individuals who violate gender stereotypes.