Bias in Hiring Female STEM Faculty

Women applying to faculty openings in science or engineering have a two-fold better chance of getting the job than men, according to a hiring simulation.

By | April 14, 2015

WIKIMEDIA, BILL BRANSONIn a hypothetical hiring situation, faculty members in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are twice as likely to give a job to a female applicant than to a male one, all else being equal. The findings of the survey, published this week (April 13) in PNAS, suggest that women may have a leg up in securing an academic position in STEM.

Wendy Williams of Cornell University told Inside Higher Ed she was surprised by the findings of her study, coauthored by Cornell’s Stephen Ceci. “At one point we turned to each other while we were coding email responses from faculty across the U.S. and said we hoped that the large preference for women applicants over identically qualified men applicants would slow down because it seemed too large to be believed! It never did slow down, and the final tally was roughly a 2 to 1 preference.”

Williams and Ceci asked nearly 900 STEM faculty members to review applications from invented scientists. In only one discipline—economics—male reviewers preferred male applicants; otherwise, female applicants won out.

It’s not clear why there was such a hiring bias in favor of women in this simulation. Joan Williams of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law told Inside Higher Ed that it could be due to the female applicants’ over-the-top qualifications. She cautioned against interpreting the study’s findings as reflecting a rosy situation for women. “There are many studies that focus only on hiring, and that’s a totally legitimate thing to do. The problem is the way they’ve interpreted their conclusion, which is far too broad, because this effect in hiring isn’t really the problem with gender bias in STEM.”

If the findings reflect real-world situations, bias against women likely persists at other career stages. “I think it’s fair to say that the women who have run the gauntlet and gotten advanced STEM degrees will find the labor market quite welcoming if they choose to seek employment in academic STEM jobs,” Jennifer Glass, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin, told Science Insider. “What happens once they are there is another matter entirely.”

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Avatar of: CLR

CLR

Posts: 2

April 15, 2015

When combined with the salary data, it could be as simple as economics.  Given that economists would presumably be more aware of salary norms for their roles, one would hope that the pay discrepancy is smaller in that field.  If women are not a more economical choice, it could explain why that one field had an outcome more in line with the anticipated results.

Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

April 15, 2015

I don't think that salary economics have anything to do with the results as CLR asserts.  Diversity, especially regarding the female gender, has finally taken hold as a mantra in academia.  The reasons for this may be altruistic, but, most likely, it's for much higher economic reasons.  More diversity will attract more tuition dollars from students from around the world.  The same goes for more money from foundations and granting agencies.  Those sorts of incomes will more than make up for filling the gender salary gap.  Academia is a business, and profitability rules.

Avatar of: Seth Crosby

Seth Crosby

Posts: 16

April 16, 2015

Someday we will transcend our bias toward biologic (gender/race) diversity and seek the only diversity that really matters: that of ideas, for which the biologic is a shadowy and often ineffectual proxy. While in pharma I sat in many very “diverse” meetings listening to everyone (including me sometimes) echo what they hoped the boss wanted to hear.

Avatar of: .....

.....

Posts: 5

April 16, 2015

In my department (undergrad biology), slightly more than half of the recent hires have been female (in the last ~10 years). That said, female faculty comprise less than 30% of the department. The oldest female professor in the department is in her early forties. Perhaps some of this pro-female bias is simply due to departments attempting to correct current imbalances, especially in the fields where there are still few females.

Williams and Ceci are well known in the field and generally well respected. That said, I had the opportunity to write a review piece on the state of gender biases in STEM recently and all of their recent work has argued against any bias against women in STEM. Now it's possible there is no more bias or if there it, it's positive, but other researchers have presented data that paints a less rosy picture. 

Ultimately, while this study is certainly interesting, it does eliminate the potential influences of appearance, interview/mock teaching styles, and perceived "fit" with the department. Females may have an advantage on paper, but while publications and experience matter, "fit" is often weighed just as highly, giving much more of a chance for pro-male biases to come into play. 

Avatar of: .....

.....

Posts: 5

April 16, 2015

In my department (undergrad biology), slightly more than half of the recent hires have been female (in the last ~10 years). That said, female faculty comprise less than 30% of the department. The oldest female professor in the department is in her early forties. Perhaps some of this pro-female bias is simply due to departments attempting to correct current imbalances, especially in the fields where there are still few females.

Williams and Ceci are well known in the field and generally well respected. That said, I had the opportunity to write a review piece on the state of gender biases in STEM recently and all of their recent work has argued against any bias against women in STEM. Now it's possible there is no more bias or if there is, it's positive, but other researchers have presented data that paints a less rosy picture. 

Ultimately, while this study is certainly interesting, it does eliminate the potential influences of appearance, interview/mock teaching styles, and perceived "fit" with the department. Females may have an advantage on paper, but while publications and experience matter, "fit" is often weighed just as highly, giving much more of a chance for pro-male biases to come into play. 

Avatar of: Neurona

Neurona

Posts: 70

May 29, 2015

Hiring is only the first step. Retention and promotion provide true diversity. My first tenure track job was in a place that hired lots of women to make for lopsided male domination, treated their female hires horribly, and lost them quickly.  Hiring patterns alone could be showing little more than a revolving door phenomenon. 

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