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Study Confirms Sexism in Science

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#1 SparkyCola

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 08:41 AM

Not surprising but still disappointing.

Article

The Study

Quote

Scientists are biased towards recruiting and encouraging men over women into the profession, according to an article published last week in the journal PNAS.
In the study, 127 science academics across disciplines, genders and ranks were asked to rate an applicant for a lab manager position. The academics ranked the "candidates" according to perceived competence, whether they could be mentored and their expected starting salary.
What these academics didn’t know was that they were all given identical CVs, only with male and female names switched round.
The authors of the study – led by Corinne A Moss-Racusin from Yale University – found CVs with male names were clearly favoured over those with female names and males were offered a bigger starting salary.

Would it be better to just use initials + surname on CVs?

Feel free to move to OT - wasn't sure which forum to put it in.

I feel the article author sort of missed the point re: the question over affirmative action. Isn't the point that in this case, affirmative action would not positively bias towards women, but would EVEN UP the playing field? Give them both an equal platform, because of the current NEGATIVE bias towards women?

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#2 QueenTiye

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 05:13 PM

Yup.  That's exactly the point of affirmative action - because even a CV with the gender obscured doesn't make up for the inevitable interview.

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#3 Orpheus

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 06:44 PM

Though I completely agree that there is an inexcusable bias in science, affirmative action seems to me an extremely superficial paint-over solution which may not solve anything at all. It sounds good, but in reality, its one great advantage is that it is easy.

It's been a while since I read the study cited above, but it explicitly noted that even female supervisors shared the bias. Women have made tremendous strides in science over the past 50 years  -- that's over five hiring generations (a good young scientist is likely to be in a position to hire subordinates within ten years), and yet, in both race and gender (which also had 50 years of affirmative action, but complicated by the existence of traditionally minority academic centers) the problem is only diminished.

What if the easy solution isn't really a solution? What evidence is there that affirmative action allowed most of the achievements made? (I don't doubt that it was vital, but that's just an unsupported opinion of mine).

The evidence of 50 years should provide strong probative figures, else we must face the possibility that the effect we believe in isn't as strong as our intuitions suggest. I'm asking this, not because I doubt such evidence exists, but because I'd like to learn of it, and more importantly,  what it might tell us about mechanisms and effects. Very rarely is a strong opening strategy a good midgame, much less one that should be played to the end.

Israel and Palestine have only been at it for 10-15 years longer than affirmative action, but I think most outside parties agree that only the newer, more difficult (and more politically vulnerable) initiatives offer any hope of any genuine advance, much less any endgame. Yet those often fall to the now-clearly inappropriate "self-preservation" strategies of the 1950s/60s.

In US medicine education, such measures persist though women are now the majority of medical graduates. Strong programs exist to help women advance through the ranks (and I'm all for mentorship), but the prevalence of men the highest ranks persists. At least among the female graduates I see, there is significantly less interest in leading the medical associations or administrative ranks than among men. (I say this as someone who rose in those ranks, but decided I wasn't interested, either.)

I fear this is a more complex situation than affirmative action can address, and if so, women, men and society could be ill-served.

#4 QueenTiye

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 08:11 PM

No doubt, but the specific study is expressly about the bias in hiring.  It's a very specific situation where qualified female applicants are less likely to be hired, because they are female.  In this case, incentivising or mandating some degree of parity is nearly guaranteed to place equally qualified women in jobs they might otherwise have been passed over for.

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#5 Orpheus

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 08:25 PM

Actually, Affirmative Action can only assure the number of women selected. It in no way addresses whether they are the best candidates, equally qualified (not that I see that as a social virtue -- I worry more about the superior female candidate who is passed over).

It's easy to presume that the best qualified woman will be chosen, but that belief is challenged by the very existence of biased hiring in the first place. It is actually at least as plausible that the female candidates most acceptable to [i.e. confirming]  the biases of evaluator will be chosen instead.

This can serve to perpetuate the slow rise of women through the selection of "capable underlings" [assistants] rather than serious challengers to the existing hierarchy.

Edited by Orpheus, 03 October 2012 - 08:29 PM.


#6 QueenTiye

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 09:32 PM

That's a fair point, but I tend to doubt it in cases where the bias is unintentional/ingrained rather than actually sexist.

Keeping in mind that the survey did not limit itself to evaluating the opinions of men - it evaluated the opinions of hirers regardless of sex.  So I have to assume that the competent female evaluators don't consciously believe in female inferiority - rather, they have an ingrained assumption/bias.  Given a requirement of hiring so many males and so many females, they are likely to choose the best females they can find.

The structure of the test doesn't assume intentional sexism - it assumes something more culturally subtle, and the hamfisted "you have to hire X number of women" forces people to push past that subtle bias that they may of their own accord WANT to push past, but aren't aware of to do so.

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#7 Orpheus

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 09:59 PM

I agree entirely, in fact I noted (above) that female evaluators shared the bias. That's why I am so concerned about the exact nature of the bias. I don't think it's as simple as "men are better". In fact, I'm almost certain it isn't.

I could make up many possible examples of bias that would still fail to level the field between female candidates. The mechanism may not be quite the same between male and female evaluators, or there may be [almost certainly are] several competing biases, with the preponderant or net effect weighing against women.

For example --and this is merely for ease of description-- men and women might subconsciously find highly competent female candidates threatening for different reasons, and therefore discount their qualifications. "Less threatening" candidates would be favored. but wouldn't do our shared goal of fairness any favors -- it might just reinforce the bias. Our goal is to allow women to rise to the level and positions their work and abilities warrant, vs. just getting the right number hired somehow.

I'm sure you'll agree that a good interviewer must weigh much more than credentials or even potential. "A good fit" in the specific workplace can be much more important to productivity, but [sadly] that intuition is easily swayed by bias.

#8 SparkyCola

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 03:00 AM

Quote

Though I completely agree that there is an inexcusable bias in science, affirmative action seems to me an extremely superficial paint-over solution which may not solve anything at all. It sounds good, but in reality, its one great advantage is that it is easy.

I agree, Orph. I've never traditionally been pro affirmative action - it seems like the wrong solution to me as well. But. I think to address the underlying issue is something that would take decades - if it ever gets fully addressed. And that's going with my assumption that this is a cultural, societal problem and not biological one. Also that people recognise the issue and want to deal with it - which is something I don't see at the moment. What can we do in the mean time, if the underlying problem may never be solved, or may even be unsolvable?

As the article notes- although this is specifically about the field of Science, I'm willing to assume there are other fields with the same problem such as Law, Politics and Technology.

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#9 Balthamos

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 03:50 AM

So... did they send the same CVs out to people with no names on them at all? How much would they pay people with no gender?  (Or whose gender is unknown).

Edited by Balthamos, 04 October 2012 - 03:52 AM.


#10 Orpheus

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 04:39 AM

View PostSparkyCola, on 04 October 2012 - 03:00 AM, said:

I agree, Orph. I've never traditionally been pro affirmative action - it seems like the wrong solution to me as well. But. I think to address the underlying issue is something that would take decades - if it ever gets fully addressed. And that's going with my assumption that this is a cultural, societal problem and not biological one. Also that people recognise the issue and want to deal with it - which is something I don't see at the moment. What can we do in the mean time, if the underlying problem may never be solved, or may even be unsolvable?
It almost certainly will take decades; it has already taken decades, if not centuries. I focus on the struggle in English speaking academia in the era since Rosalind Franklin and the affirmative action of Kennedy/Johnson, because that's the culture I grew up in, but I could as easily say the struggle has been fought since before Lady Ada or Marie Curie.

This is what I meant about the seduction of the easy approach. We have, in effect, dismissed all thought of middle- and long-term solutions because the thought is unappealing -- at least I can't recall hearing of such approaches.

As I've said, I believe affirmative action achieved some success in an era when a female scientist would've had difficulty finding a position as a researcher at all (vs. a glorified lab tech), but when you must force someone to do a thing, they will only obey the letter of the decree (consciously or unconsciously, else they wouldn't need to be forced) vs. your highest intent.

There is also the question of "fairness" to equally qualified males. Don't fairness and equality inherently  refer to the individual? Isn't one decision openly made on the basis of gender or race equally biased, in a formal sense, as any other? I don't know the answer, and I can feel the "pragmatic" imperative, but the Hard Question remains, however inconvenient.

#11 QueenTiye

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 08:38 AM

I'm not a fan of affirmative action as currently configured (although I am a fan of affirmative action - who isn't! ;)).  But I honestly can't see any middle-term solutions.  Until the society ISN'T inclined to pass the kinds of judgments on women that it does universally, how are people supposed to view women differently?

Said another way - are stereotypically beautiful women automatically taken less seriously for science positions? Probably, and probably by both men and women.  So - say a woman gets past the "CV" screen with a neutral name which automatically defaults to white and male (again - literature reinforces this predominant default effect - I've talked about it before).  Now she's before an interviewer and has to overcome the gazillion assumptions people make about WOMEN, none of which are about the job she's interviewing for.  If she doesn't wear any makeup, there's an assumption about her made (generally unfavorable), if she wears makeup that's too noticeable, there's an assumption made that is significantly more impactful than if a guy wears a too-noticeable tie.  If she has large breasts there are assumptions made about her that are again, unfavorable to the task at hand, which is interviewing for a science position.  And - then there's the viceral negative impact of the interviewer feeling "fooled" - because the neutral name turned out to be female (and maybe not white - different races of females carry different stereotypes), and not male.  If there is a midrange or longterm solution to look at that changes these dynamics, I'm eager to know about them, but the fact is that these dynamics are society-wide - and are carried into the workplace.  They aren't specific to the workplace.

QT

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