Equality & Diversity
Apparently, women are now more likely to get a job in academia because of their gender than men.
In this article, Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci contend that women have no only closed the gap when it comes to getting hired into academic jobs, but reversed it, to the point where they are in some cases four times more likely than a man to get a job, based on identical CVs with only the gender switched.
We ran five national experiments with these otherwise-identical female and male candidates, systematically varying their personal attributes and lifestyles in a counterbalanced design. Every time we sent a given slate of candidates to a male faculty member, we sent the same slate with sexes reversed to another male faculty member, as well as sending both slates to two female faculty members. Then we compared the faculty members' rankings to see how hirable each candidate was, overall.
What we found shocked us. Women had an overall 2-to-1 advantage in being ranked first for the job in all fields studied. This preference for women was expressed equally by male and female faculty members, with the single exception of male economists, who were gender neutral in their preferences.
In some conditions, women's advantage reached 4-to-1. When women were compared with men who shared the same lifestyle, advantages accrued to women in all demographic groups—including single or married women without children, married women with preschoolers, and divorced mothers.
Here's the paper: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/04/08/1418878112.abstract
National randomized experiments and validation studies were conducted on 873 tenure-track faculty (439 male, 434 female) from biology, engineering, economics, and psychology at 371 universities/colleges from 50 US states and the District of Columbia. In the main experiment, 363 faculty members evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical female and male applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships who shared the same lifestyle (e.g., single without children, married with children). Applicants' profiles were systematically varied to disguise identically rated scholarship; profiles were counterbalanced by gender across faculty to enable between-faculty comparisons of hiring preferences for identically qualified women versus men. Results revealed a 2:1 preference for women by faculty of both genders across both math-intensive and non–math-intensive fields, with the single exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Results were replicated using weighted analyses to control for national sample characteristics. In follow-up experiments, 144 faculty evaluated competing applicants with differing lifestyles (e.g., divorced mother vs. married father), and 204 faculty compared same-gender candidates with children, but differing in whether they took 1-y-parental leaves in graduate school. Women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers; men preferred mothers who took leaves to mothers who did not. In two validation studies, 35 engineering faculty provided rankings using full curricula vitae instead of narratives, and 127 faculty rated one applicant rather than choosing from a mixed-gender group; the same preference for women was shown by faculty of both genders. These results suggest it is a propitious time for women launching careers in academic science. Messages to the contrary may discourage women from applying for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) tenure-track assistant professorships.
So, anyone fancy taking a look to see what's going on? Is this robust evidence that there is no bias against women in academia? I am, as ever, a bit wary of hanging out the bunting when their results are so different to other studies, though iirc those other studies weren't focused on academia.
Standard warning: Do not read the comments unless you really enjoy listening to the whining of affronted men.
I'm surprised by their results as I seem to remember studies where identical CVs were sent with only names being different finding that men with 'western' names getting job offers far more frequently and for more money than women or minorities, and those were academic CVs to academic institutions.
I'll try and take a look if you like, though I don't have institutional access to papers any more (it finally expired) so I'll be reliant on open access.
I haven't read the paper yet but one thing I would wonder is how the survey was done. If the people reviewing the CVs knew they were being asked to review the CVs then I could see a lot of bias stepping in. The fact that they know their judgements are being studied may make them more likely to be careful to not appear sexist (and may even overcompensate). From the (very) brief look it seems that the reviewers were asked to review the CVs and were paid to do so which seems to add a huge source of bias to the study. I need to look more closely at the methodology but if the people who are doing the reviewing know they're being watched I can see that being a good explanation for why the results are so swayed towards women. It would be interesting to compare the reviewers responses with the gender composition of their post-docs and PhD students. . .
The full paper is here:
Though it reminds me a lot of the PhD paper you looked at before, in that it's only examining one small part of the academic pipeline, that of hiring for assistant professorships.
Jeepers, it's, um, heavy going.
I am skimming through the methodology, which is described in detail - and with rather a lot of kind of angsty justification - in the supplementary.
One thing that bothers me immediately, is the contrasting of different lifestyles of the candidates - married or not, children or not, etc. I don't buy that. you'd never have that information, not in the UK, anyway. I don't know where you'd put that in an application, and if an applicant went to lengths to tell me that they had a stay at home partner, i'd think they were weird. So I am finding that really jarring, so far.
Ok, so i clicked the link in the supplemental, and found their website where there is a link to the actual material given to the people grading They were not shortlisting - they have got the interview notes from three candidates, and they have to rank them. There are a lot of caveats in there from the authors that they have "disguised" the gender issue with the "personae" given to the candidates. Half the women were given a traditional "male" persona, and have more "female" and the authors hoped that this would lead reviewers to suspect this was about male and female personalities not gender per se
As it stands the data are what they are. But it doesn't address a more "real" situation in which you're trying to get women shortlisted at all (which can be tricky). The results, I suspect, would have been different if they had just got CVs. I think what it does demonstrate is that if you use the same language about men and women, then women are at little (if any) disadvantage. I think this is actually quite a hopeful study in that it shows that women are likely not experiencing direct discrimination, but that under-representation is likely due to something more subtle.
Because of course, in real life, the language used to describe women, in their own words and by their referees too, is often quite different from that used about men.
Yeah, that bit is worrying, because that's not info that you'd have in a job application in the UK at least. I'm not sure if US law is different. I'll ask Kev.
I was also bothered by the way they attempted to disguise what they were really trying to study. From the supplemental info:
The systematic manipulation of gendered personae served a very important role of subterfuge in the present experiments. Because one applicant was depicted in a female gendered persona and the other-- although identical in academic accomplishments--was depicted in a male persona, it suggested to respondents that we were interested in their relative preference for creative, imaginative, kind, socially-skilled individuals vs. analytic, single-minded, ambitious, powerhouses, among otherwise identically-qualified applicants (identically rated as 9.5 with strong letters, eminent mentors, and strong department evaluations). Gendered personae were fully crossed with gender of applicant (e.g., each male applicant presented to a faculty rater in a stereotypically male persona was also presented to a different faculty rater in a female persona, counterbalanced for faculty-rater gender as well). Thus, respondents were unaware of this controlled manipulation (since it was done between subjects), and if they harbored any hunches about the purpose of the experiment, they reported that they assumed our interest was in their preference between these types of personae, which served to disguise the gendered nature of the experiment. Coupled with the inclusion of a male (and sometimes female) Y foil, this manipulation of personae resulted in faculty believing the purpose of the experiments was to determine their preference for creative, kind, socially-skilled applicants vs. analytic, single-minded, ambitious powerhouses--not to test their preference for males versus females.
I may be misunderstanding, but they appear to be saying that the construct of the experiment was suppose to suggest to subjects they were studying preferences for people with either stereotypically female or male traits... which doesn't really sound like the kind of attempt to blind the study that one might hope for.
I agree - it's not really "blinding". As I say in my edit, above, it does seem that the hopeful thing is that if you control the language used to describe women, they are not disadvantaged simply by gender pronoun. But it does suggest that one problem actually the language used to describe women and their work. I saw a tag cloud graphic on words used in references for male and female candidates - it was quite shocking, not least because I recognised that I do myself use the word "meticulous" about women more than I do for men. (now, I would argue that in labwork, it is true that my female students are indeed, more meticulous than the male ones, but I now wonder if that's just unconcious bias on my part... )
If you see what I mean.
I do indeed see what you mean. And if the gender pronoun doesn't have an impact, then that's good. All we have to fix is everything else. :/
Ouch!! That's gotta sting!
It also raises the question of what these researchers felt they were contributing? What's the motivation for creating an unrealistic study about hiring practices and then publishing an op-ed piece about how women are now at an advantage in the higher levels of academia?
Studies like this are so unhelpful to the equality cause: They allow people (often men, but not always) to conclude that women are now getting an unfair advantage and sow the seeds of a backlash against schemes designed to help level the playing field. I find it most frustrating.
That's a really interesting question and one worth investigating further. How did this get published in a reputable journal when its methodology was so poor? What was the thinking behind the study? Should there be more rigorous per review for papers that not only reach conclusions that are so wildly different from the consensus of that field but also have far-reaching impacts? In some respects it feels like a minor version of the Wakefield paper - poorly done yet published and harms the field for years to come. While I can't see this paper having that level of impact, it's certainly has the feel of one naysayers keep and trot out every time the topic of conversation turns to women in STEM.
Given this and the other blog post by that researcher that overstated the findings of his research, one has to ask whether researchers should be allowed to write op-eds about their own papers without oversight! The comments on the CNN piece show how damaging this research is. The very first comment is:
"reveal that female scientists have had a significantly higher chance of being interviewed and hired than men. "
Which equals - sexism
haha, this comes as no surprise to anyone working in the field. Women with science or engineering degrees can basically choose where they want to work as companies fall all over themselves to try to hire them. No, you won't see that fact mentioned in the media. And why should you? That would not be a good way to sell newspapers or generate clicks.
Interesting piece-- I'd add that its not just in the sciences where this happens but across a more general spectrum. I've been in business for the last 20 years. Having worked for several companies, I have seen this first hand. Bright young women are sought after and given opportunities and accommodations that are not as easily given to their male counter parts. Companies sometimes bend over backwards in their attempts to recruit and retain qualified women. As for the men? well Jack, you're a dime a dozen. Go stand in line. Additionally, the culture itself has changed so much with regards to political correctness. mere competence from a woman is often lauded as "brilliance" by people eager to appear as "forward thinking" and not out of step with current political fashion. Call it the Sarah Palin syndrome.
Well... wow! First of all - thank you for this article.
As a person who works in scientific environment, I know that this is truth. Faculty is so concerned with diversity nowadays that been a male is a huge disadvantage when you are looking for job. Lots of principal investigators openly hire less qualified women than more qualified men just to demonstrate how liberal and pro-equality they are. This is open sexism but most of females are fine with it - because they believe it is time for "payback" after years of discrimination... No wonder so many men are defensive.
And that's not even the first dozen comments.
The misogyny here is depressing, and this article is seen to back it up. It's a total gift for MRAs who already believe that the world, and especially women, are unfairly prejudiced against them. I think it certainly makes it harder for people like us to argue that more work still needs to be done, because people will use this as "evidence" that we just want to give women an unfair advantage rather than even things up a bit.
I just checked Google News for media coverage, and much of it is unthinking parroting of the CNN piece. How depressing.
These researchers also turn out to have form:
This is the latest in a series of studies by the Cornell researchers, many of which have concluded that the scarcity of female faculty in science departments (about 20 percent in most fields) can’t be blamed on innate sexism. In a study published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, they found that young and mid-career women are more likely to receive job offers than male candidates, are paid roughly the same amount, are granted tenure and promoted at the same rate (except in economics), remain in their fields for the same amount of time, and are about as satisfied with their jobs. The study attributes the lack of female scientists to early educational choices — like opting not to take Advanced Placement calculus and physics in high school or choosing not to declare a math-intensive major in college — rather than discrimination later on.
WaPo does provide counterclaims from other researchers, but gives Williams the last word. sigh And the comments are just as terrible.
In fact, a Slate article by Rebecca Schuman is the only piece I can find, other than that blog post linked up-thread, to take a skeptical view of this research:
The paper’s weaknesses just might be the result of where it’s published, i.e. the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, for which Ceci serves as founding co-editor—meaning he has printed his work in his own journal. Why the Paper of Record did not disclose this relationship is, frankly, baffling to me.
Had this study been subject to more strenuous peer review (the kind that you are more likely to get when you don’t submit to a journal you founded), Ceci and Williams may have been pressed more on why their conclusions, as the sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos tells me, don’t match their data, which she argues actually “do show inequalities in STEM, but the authors dismiss this.”
Ooh, ho ho ho. Now we see the why of the what!
More links from that article to assessments of the paper (which I've not read yet):
The Emily Willingham piece is great, and there's this storify too:
ETA: Ooh, the comments on this one are something else! A friend of the authors pops in and, well, you can imagine!
Blog post with more links to rebuttals:
Certainly, hiring bias is an issue discussed in relation to women’s careers in STEM areas, but it is nowhere near the top of the list of barriers and obstacles that come up frequently. Bullying, aggression, withholding of resources, stereotype threat and imposter syndrome: sure. Hiring bias, “meh, not so much”, to put it colloquially. To put this in context, Anthropologist Jessica Brinkworth and I recently solicited personal essays of women’s experiences in science. We asked all of the potential authors to specifically describe obstacles they had faced and explain how they tried to address them to move forward or move on. This included women who persevered on the tenure track and those who chose other scientific lives. We received over a hundred submissions and not a single one was about hiring bias. There were essays about mental health, about struggling to raise a family, about sexual harassment and assault, about bullying and even having a job offer rescinded due to pregnancy. But not one women mentioned even being worried about hiring bias. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist or isn’t an issue, but to say that it’s the “prevailing wisdom” on why women are underrepresented in science is a big stretch.
Also very interesting quote:
As I said earlier, a huge influence on girls and women in science (and all people in science really) is what the important people in their lives think about their participation in science. If family and friends value science and express confidence in girls’ and women’s abilities, they are far more likely to persevere. The social support they receive during times of difficulty is essential. Social support can include very specific actions, but it can also be built in the casual conversations the people have with each other about women in science.
Here's a more nuanced take-down of the paper.
Ceci and Williams get ripped a new one:
Comments predictably shit.
I haven't finished reading the article but I like what I've seen so far. The bit that really grabbed me, particularly in the context of the recent discussion on 'the motherhood trap' was this bit:
Kids aren’t for everyone, but for adults who want them, having children is a key goal. Requiring women to sacrifice having children as the price of an academic career in science guarantees a paucity of women.
If academia was a place that was inimical to kids then that would be fair enough. Wrong but whatever. The problem is it isn't inimical to kids, it's inimical to women with kids. Men with kids have fine careers. Male scientists without wives and children are, it seems, the exception while for female scientists they seem to be the norm (I'm being slightly hyperbolic, I know).
I've never wanted kids but I've begun to wonder how much of that is because I really don't and how much is because I've wanted to be an academic (something I'm not sure I want to be any more ) and I've known that achieving that with kids was going to be really hard so I've made myself more anti-kid as a way of preventing it from ever becoming an issue. The fact that I'm perennially single makes it all, um, academic (!) anyway, but I also wonder how much of that is because I want to be free to go wherever the jobs are and how much is down to being an antisocial stubborn bitch. Probably six of one, half a dozen of the other
Also, I feel rather smug that in my very first post on this I wrote:
If the people reviewing the CVs knew they were being asked to review the CVs then I could see a lot of bias stepping in. The fact that they know their judgements are being studied may make them more likely to be careful to not appear sexist (and may even overcompensate). From the (very) brief look it seems that the reviewers were asked to review the CVs and were paid to do so which seems to add a huge source of bias to the study. I need to look more closely at the methodology but if the people who are doing the reviewing know they're being watched I can see that being a good explanation for why the results are so swayed towards women.
Their point 3 pretty much says that I was right :). The study was unblinded enough for the subjects to know what result should be given so they gave it.
. . . .
Just finished. Started skimming the comments. Had to stop - the eye-rolling was giving me a headache.
Excellent article. Although she never outright called it as such, I really liked the highlighting of the way mothers can patronise childless women with the whole 'you just don't understand' shtick.
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