From CosmicLog: Turn up the girl power in science
It's not exactly surprising that males are perceived as more
competent in science than females — but researchers at Yale University were surprised to find that even professional scientists showed evidence of such bias. Now the big question is what to do about it.
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," microbiologist Jo Handelsman,
lead author of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a Yale news release. "I had hoped that they were right."
Handelsman and her colleagues asked 127 science faculty members from
six institutions to review an application from a senior undergraduate
student looking for a job as a lab manager. The faculty members were
asked to judge how competent the applicant was, how much the student
should be paid, and whether they'd be willing to mentor the student.
researcher looked at the same application — but in some cases the
applicant was given a male name (John), and in the other cases a female
name was assigned (Jennifer), all on a random basis. When the results
were analyzed, it turned out that the sight-unseen male applicant was
rated more competent than the female. The mean starting salary offer was
$30,238.10 for John as opposed to $26,507.94 for Jennifer. Faculty
members were more willing to mentor John than Jennifer.
showed a disparity whether the demographic category in question was male
or female, young or old, tenured or untenured. "The bias appears
pervasive among faculty and is not limited to a certain demographic
subgroup," Handelsman and her colleagues wrote.
emphasized that they weren't suggesting the biases were intentional or
stemmed from a conscious desire to hold women back. In fact, they found
that the faculty members tended to like Jennifer more than John. That
sentiment was generally voiced by faculty women as well as faculty men.
It's just that the warm feelings for Jennifer "did not translate into
positive perceptions of her composite confidence or material outcomes,"
according to the PNAS paper.
So what is to be done? "Our results
suggest that academic policies and mentoring interventions targeting
undergraduate advisers could contribute to reducing the gender
disparity," the researchers wrote.
The findings suggest that it's
not enough to get young women interested in careers in science,
technology, education and math, a.k.a. STEM. There needs to be a
conscious follow-through by the folks who do the hiring and
mentoring. You can read through the whole study at the PNAS website.
it shouldn't be so surprising to find out that scientists can be
vulnerable to subtle biases, just like other people. Even journalists.
Last month, for example, Lund University researchers Daniel Conley and
Johanna Stadmark found that far fewer women than men were being invited to write commentaries for the journals Science and Nature.
Conley and Stadmark acknowledged that men tend to outnumber women
in scientific fields, particularly at the higher levels, so there's
something of a selection effect at work. But they said it was "still
fair to conclude that fewer women than men are offered the career boost
of invitation-only authorship in each of the two leading science
journals." They called on the editors to "extend gender parity for
Over time, raising the visibility of women scientists (and raising
their salaries) will help draw more girls into research and science
education. At least that's the idea. Here are a few more efforts that
put girl power to work on the science world's gender issues:
'Girl Thing' reloaded: Remember the European Commission program that stirred up a controversy
by putting out a glammed-up video about STEM careers for women? Now the
EC's "Science: It's a Girl Thing" program is sponsoring a contest for
videographers who think they can do better. On the Scientific American
website, "Science Goddess" Joanne Manaster explains how to enter. The winning videos will be shown in November at the European Gender Summit at the European Parliament in Brussels. Three winners will each receive a cash prize of €1,500 ($1,930).
Think locally: It's worth looking for organizations that are bringing girl power to STEM on the community level. The best example is Sally Ride Science,
which thinks globally and acts locally when it comes to getting girls
involved in scientific pursuits. The organization, founded by the late space icon Sally Ride, presents a series of science festivals for girls in grades 5 through 8. The next one is coming up Oct. 27 at Rice University in Houston, with astronaut Wendy Lawrence as the featured speaker. Other organizations involved in girl-power science include Girlstart in Austin, Texas; and Science Club for Girls in the Boston area.
Women chemists in the spotlight: The Chemical Heritage Foundation's video series
pays tribute to seven women who have made their mark in chemistry —
including Stephanie Kwolek, the inventor of bulletproof Kevlar fiber;
Paula Hammond, a pioneer in nanotechnology for drug delivery; and Nancy
Chang, a successful biotech entrepreneur.