Slight Female Bias in French Science Teacher Exams

High school and college-level oral examiners graded women higher than men in male-dominated fields.

Jul 29, 2016
Tanya Lewis

FLICKR, SIMPLEINSOMNIAThe findings of a new study challenge the commonly held notion that a hiring bias contributes to the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields—at least in France. Researchers at the Paris School of Economics compared the scoring of competitive exams used to recruit almost all secondary and postsecondary teachers and professors. The team found a bias in favor of women in math, physics, and philosophy, which increased with the degree of male domination in the field, according to a report published today (July 29) in Science.

“These findings have implications for the debate over what interventions are appropriate to increase the representation of women in fields in which they are currently underrepresented,” the authors wrote in their study.

Thomas Breda and Mélina Hillion of the Paris School of Economics compared oral non-gender–blind tests with written gender-blind tests for about 100,000 men and women in 11 different fields between 2006 and 2013. They found about a 10 percent bias in favor of female test takers in the non-gender–blind oral tests in math, physics, and philosophy. The opposite was true for fields where men are traditionally underrepresented: The team found a 3 percent to 5 percent bias in favor of male oral test takers in literature and foreign languages.

While the researchers acknowledge many possible reasons for the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, they noted that there is “no compelling evidence” of hiring discrimination against people who have already decided to pursue a teaching career in a field in which they are the minority gender, and that non-gender–blind evaluations may narrow these gaps faster than gender-blind approaches.