It is common knowledge that women are heavily under-represented in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), despite efforts to recruit and retain more women in these fields. Though progress has been made, a recent paper from Yale University researchers delivered some sobering news – there is still a clear bias against female scientists.
The paper describes an experiment where science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student who was applying for a laboratory manager position. The faculty evaluators were told that that the résumé was real and that the evaluation would be used to develop mentoring materials for science students. Each résumé was randomly assigned either a male or female name. The study found that faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than his (identical) female counterpart. The faulty evaluators also made lower salary recommendations (by about 12 percent) for the female applicant and offered her less career mentoring. In addition, it was found that male and female faculty evaluators were equally likely to give the female candidate lower ratings.
It’s easy to identify blatant examples of sexism or harassment in the academic workplace. Telling a woman she is bad at math simply because she is female is an obvious example of sexism. However, it is the more subtle and, in many cases, unintentional examples of gender bias or discrimination (as in the experiment described above) that are harder to identify and even harder to address. If a female grad student is told by her advisor that she is not cut out for graduate school, it is less likely that she will question the objectivity and validity of this assessment compared to a more obvious putdown with a clear lack of factual basis. This is why having a forum to discuss sexism is so important.
In July 2014, a new website, Everyday Sexism in STEM, was launched with the aim of shedding light on the prevalence of gender bias in the STEM fields. The Everyday Sexism in STEM project was created to provide a place for women in STEM fields to share their personal experiences dealing with sexism on a daily basis. The site welcomes all types of stories – from the most outrageous displays of gender discrimination to the subtlest that are tolerated and even considered normal in the workplace. The goal of the Everyday Sexism in STEM site is to provide a sense of community for those who have faced gender discrimination in the workplace. Shared stories allow others to know they are not alone in their struggles and their experiences are not isolated. In addition, every story shared provides evidence that sexism is a real issue in academia that must be addressed. The Everyday Sexism in STEM website is a great resource for both men and women because it establishes a basis for communication and makes it clear that it is okay to talk about gender bias.
Moss-Racusin, Corinne A., John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman. 2012. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, (41): 16474.
Everyday Sexism in STEM (http://stemfeminist.com/)