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Study confirms sexism in science, so what are we going to do?

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…

The same CVs, with the names switched from male to female, had different success rates. CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture

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.

Interestingly, Moss-Racusin and colleagues found the gender of the academic assessing the application didn’t affect the bias: men and women were more likely to preference male applicants.

I’m not about to debate the validity of this paper – the extent of my psychology knowledge comes from flicking through “50 things you need to know about psychology” in the airport yesterday. I’m going to accept the findings, as that is what peer review is for in the first place.

But, as a woman who happens to work in a scientific profession, I’m very interested in the implications of this work. What should be done to address this issue?

“Candidates” were ranked for competence, hireability and mentoring, on a scale of 1 to 7. The higher number, the greater the extent of each variable. PNAS/ Moss/Racusin et al.

Well, we could do nothing. The authors suggest the male bias is “unintentional” and is “generated from widespread cultural stereotypes rather than a conscious intention to harm women”. If that is the case then surely society is at fault.

There’s a test for this: do similar professionals do that same thing – a lawyer recruiting for an intern, say? If so – and it seems there is a gender bias within the legal profession – it would seem a little harsh to pick on scientists in particular.

But perhaps a societal pro-male bias is exacerbated by the steepness of the career pyramid in academia?

(That is, there are many thousands of undergraduates becoming hundreds of postgraduates, leading to only a handful of professors. The climb to the upper region of academia is long and steep.)

If so, is there then a case for the dreaded positive discrimination? (Yes, that can of worms).

I’m pretty squeamish about the idea of positive discrimination. Nobody, whatever box you tick, wants to know they’ve reached a position because of some attempt to even the ledger. We all just want to be judged on our merits.

But then there is always the argument that bringing diversity into the workplace enriches the place as a whole and sometimes the only way of achieving this is through a more “focused” appointment procedure.

As always on these issues, I will defer to physicist Athene Donald who is much more knowledgeable and eloquent than I. To quote:

When you are selecting a single individual who is meant to be unequivocally “the best” to appoint someone only because they are a woman who is vaguely qualified is dangerous and unhelpful to the individual and the organisation.

Male “candidates” were awarded a considerably higher salary than females.

So what is the impact of this bias on those of us in the science merry-go-round, aiming to grab the first rung of the academic ladder, where time may be ticking down to the end of a current contract?

Where previously we may have worried about unconscious bias in interviews – such as an offhand “so what does your husband/partner think of you applying for this position?” – now it seems there could even be something to worry about at the CV stage.

The study specifically focused on positions before a PhD and so it would be wrong to assume the findings can be transposed further up the academic ladder. The implication of the paper was that this slight, societal effect could be having an undue influence on the number of women in science before doctoral level.

I would anticipate that any societal bias would actually lessen as you move up the academic scale. The further you get up the scale the more unique you become, so surely a subtle gender bias would not have as much of an effect?

Whatever the effect higher up the academic tree, we cannot afford to hide from the findings of this paper. Gender bias is real in science and probably a contributing factor to there being less women in the sector.

So what are we – scientists and the general public – going to do about it?

Join the conversation

77 Comments sorted by

  1. Comment removed by moderator.

  2. Craig Minns

    Self-employed

    I recommend Olivia Carter's excellent series on how having children is affecting her ability to do science. As she is a high-achieving scientific researcher at the peak of her career it's very germane to this topic.

    Several workforce resourcing studies show that women, on average, are less productive, work for fewer hours and for fewer years than men do,even in th medical profession which has historically been a "vocation" rather than a simple means of earning a crust. It seems very likely that…

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    1. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Craig Minns

      I should also say that the converse is true of many humanities fields, I suspect, where women have colonised the field and consciously select for female peers. If everybody is working less in those fields, which are largely less demanding of commitment anyway, then nobody stands out.

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    2. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Helen Maynard-Casely

      Hi Helen,
      Here are 3 of them

      https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2003/179/4/medical-workforce-issues-australia-tomorrow-s-doctors-too-few-too-far

      http://www.ahwo.gov.au/documents/NHWT/The%20health%20workforce%20in%20Australia%20and%20factors%20influencing%20current%20shortages.pdf

      http://www.eowa.gov.au/Pay_Equity/Pay_Equity_Information/Australias_hidden_resource.pdf

      The last one tries to put a gloss on to satisfy the EOWA, which funded it, but the essential number is that of female productivity.

      There are others, but I can't put my finger on them quickly and these 3 are fairly authoritative.

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    3. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Craig Minns

      "The worst aspect of a feminist paradigm is that it cannot abide open discussion, but requires coercive means to stop it. Billions of dollars are devoted to such coercive mechanisms"

      Got any evidence for that?

      I was subjected to real pressure not to study science and not to attend university. I was told that I'd be taking a place that a man could have had. So excuse me for being less than convinced by your conspiracy theories.

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    4. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      "I was subjected to real pressure not to study science and not to attend university. I was told that I'd be taking a place that a man could have had"

      If you say so, but your experience is hardly typical for modern year 12s.
      Most medical graduates are female these days, they dominate all graduation ceremonies in life sciences, but fall off the more mathematical the sciences become (not going to use the word "hard").
      Of course the exceptions in physical and maths are numerous and getting more numerous all the time.

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    5. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Hi Lorna, we have a sex discrimination act, a sex discrimination commissioner, an Office for the Status of Women in every state. The list of such evidence is long and not pretty.

      Several high-profile academics have been forced to recant views expressing their genuine concern about some aspects of female participation and politicians have been vilified for daring to try to discuss issues relating to the subject.

      I also note our PM was too sick to attend important functions of State recently…

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    6. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Oh and btw, Lorna, these are not "conspiracy theories", they are simple statements of fact. I'm afraid you're just dog-whistling.

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    7. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Poor Craig - nostalgic for the days when the "old boy's network" was the main form of professional recruitment; when women were required to resign when they got married; when universities relegated women to a handful of colleges and courses - or banned them altogether; when openly paying a woman less than a man was perfectly legal.

      Your "evidence" may count for something in your eyes, but it doesn't mean much. 52% of the population continue to be under-represented, despite a lack of evidence justifying this exclusion - that's the reality.

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    8. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Still just dog-whistling Lorna.

      Please provide evidence of your offensive assertions in regard to myself or I will lodge a complaint with the editors in regard to your conduct.

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    9. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Craig Minns

      In other words, you don't like what I'm saying so you want to silence me? Sounds like male oppression from my point of view.

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    10. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Actually, you're just offensive. I don't need to be female to recognise simple abuse.

      I think you may have demonstrated another possible reason for the poor perception of women in science labs.

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    11. Chris Aitchison

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Oh how I wish this site could hide an entire branch of comments that did not add to the discussion!

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    12. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Chris Aitchison

      Sadly, the feminist dog-whistle is a standard disrupting tactic used when logical argument fails.

      However, I should thank Lorna for demonstrating so clearly the vilification of anybody who doesn't toe the feminist line.

      People like Lorna and her ilk can do me no harm, but they can cause no end of trouble for someone who depends on Government grants, or who is employed in Government facilities.

      They do their cause no favours.

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    13. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      "Most medical graduates are female these days, they dominate all graduation ceremonies in life sciences, but fall off the more mathematical the sciences become (not going to use the word "hard")."

      You are conflating career "choice" with employer "bias".

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    14. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Fred, the career choice is because of both selection bias and predisposing factors, such as educational modes that suit boys rather than girls.

      The employer bias described in the article has alternative explanations, as I have pointed out.

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    15. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      I had a look at the last of your references first and found nothing in there to support your assertions in fact quite the converse.

      Particpation rates are increasing, employability is on a par and on many measures females are more reliable than men - for instance - being more likely to retain their work during times of economic downturn.

      The most notable differenecs however were based around childcare, management and education.

      Men are much less likely to spend as many hours undertaking parental stuff.
      Woman are much less likely to be represented in management.

      Women over 50 (a typical upper management age) are much less likely to have university education. - (although women under 40 are trunign this around to the opposite sense).

      On balance, from one of the very docs you quote, I can't see any reasons other than cultural bad habits for why employers should have a gender bias in their selection criteria!

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    16. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Ah, at last a response based on the actual evidence! Shame it took so long and came from a man,but that's the way it goes. Thanks Fred.

      None of the measures you discussed have anything to do with productivity. Participation rates are the result of "affirmative action" policies and the fact that young men are increasingly unlikely to obtain a higher qualification.Employability is on a par only if productive life is not taken into account and if the employer is prepared to invest in "female-friendly…

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    17. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      My point, and it still stands despite perhaps not being put carefully enough, was that career choice is not the issue here. The fact that psychologists are mostly female and physics are mostly male didn't matter.

      The issue is bias confirmed in a study where the only correlating parameter was gender!

      Apologetics for the observed gender bias in career choice is missing the point.

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    18. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Oh, I forgot to mention, the EOWA is one of the few Agencies that doesn't actually report on the gender ratio of its staff for the compilation of statistics.
      Some might suggest that to be hypocritical.

      Its parent department, FAHCSIA has over 2/3 female staff

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    19. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I think you're missing the point Fred: employers are making hard-nosed decisions based on their likely return on investment. No apologetics, just a reason.

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    20. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Well thanks for those comments you seem to feel strongly about this topic and have researched it a fair bit. It's nice to be pointed to something in this regard. I will take a look at the other docs you put up as well.

      "As you say,men are less likely to do the parenting stuff. That makes women less attractive to employers looking for long-term commitments, no?"

      I'm still not sure what your point is: Do your comments mean that you feel that the status quo of women taking a large part of the unpaid parenting role while men take the larger part of the paid roles while in effect also receiving support by women is somehow the culturally or evolutionarily correct gender norm.

      Could you seriously be saying yes there is a bias and it is good .. because ...well ... because it is self-supporting?

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    21. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      OK - so how do we change it and make for a more equitable system where women are not disadvantaged by archaic notions of who should do what?

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    22. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      There has been over 40 years of genderist social engineering and yet women still hold the children. There has been very little movement in the relative probability of a father being the primary carer. This suggests that there is an underlying motivation that is somewhat primal and will not change no matter how much coercion and money is thrown at it.

      Perhaps its time we stopped pretending and started to acknowledge that the current feminist model is seriously and fundamentally flawed? It's become a case of women wanting to have their cake and eat it.

      It's fascinating to me that so many intelligent people are so determined to play 3 monkeys when this subject is raised. As I've said above, that's easily explained when one considers the career implications of failing to toe the line.

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    23. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      From the first of the docs you pointed us too. "Female doctors
      have a working life that approximates 60% that of male
      doctors. Significant amounts of time are consumed by
      family demands, and a desire to work sensible (and regular)
      hours on their return to the workforce.9 Safe working-hours
      policies are now established in most junior medical officer
      awards, and these have had a significant impact on workforce
      requirements in public hospitals. Further, male doctors
      are no longer willing to…

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    24. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I've already suggested that some form of binding commitment may be introduced, with appropriate penalties for breach, for students in topics that require long maturation periods,such as most of the sciences. In many fields the investigation of an hypothesis may take a very long time and it is not compatible with taking a break to have children (something that men cannot do, regardless of how unfair it is).

      It may also be a completely intractable problem, not amenable to being abolished by policy. I suspect this is closer to the nub of it, but I'm happy if I'm wrong. It would be beneficial to the whole of society if there were more highly qualified people who were actually working in their field. Sadly, at the moment, many women will not be after an initial burst of productivity, which is due to their own decisions, not employer bias.

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    25. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      "something that men cannot do, regardless of how unfair it is"

      News to me I took 18 months off at half time at a crtitcal time in my kids development. Best thing I'd ever done from the point of view of giving me perspective about work and gendered work roles.

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    26. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I'd say that the two are entwined. The political drive to increase female participation has lead to hospital-based work practises that are more attractive to women and this has lead to their male peers also adopting them, possibly simply because not doing so would be a form of discrimination against them!

      In other industries in which fatigue management is important, such as transport, there are few women operators and the men work as long as their logbooks will permit.

      However, despite that…

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    27. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Who bore the kids,Fred? For the large majority, it's the same person who will defend to the death her right to have as much time with them as she wants.

      My point is not that it's not possible to change the paradigm, but that doing so is like King Canute fighting the tide in most cases and counterproductive in nearly all cases. Women can take a long time to return to their prenatal performance, due to good biological reasons and they are rarely undistracted by thoughts of their children when the children are young. As I said, have a read of Dr Carter's blog on here for a good exposition of the problems.

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    28. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      "is that we rarely discuss the problems of feminisation at all"

      Well it seems to me that you have been very eloquent in this regard. If I were to ask you about the benefits of feminisation of the work force - what would your repsonse be?

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    29. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Interesting question. I'd say it's dependent on the work type and the workplace and on the women themselves.

      Work that by its nature allows flexibility with no detriment to performance is a perfect fit, which is why academia is such an attractive option for many women graduates, as is Government. However, work that is highly goal-oriented and intensive is more problematic, especially for women in mid-career, at their peak child-bearing age. Few women choose to work in mining or as mentioned earlier…

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    30. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      When I read Dr Carters blog I see the benefits we gain from having a person of her capability in the workforce. I also sympathize with her because many of the effects she reports are not peculiar to the female gender but experienced by all sleep deprived parents who juggle kids and career.

      Maybe, for greater consistency and from a hard nosed bottom line principle, employers should simply be biased against prospective parents (of either gender). It is precisely in trying to balance these sorts of factors and in protecting indivdual rights that we have workplace standards and standards of gender equity.

      "it's the same person who will defend to the death her right to have as much time with them as she wants"

      This above quoted statement is ridiculous and unsupported it diminishes the credibility of your arguments..

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    31. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I agree that Dr Carter is a high-performer, but she cheerfully acknowledges the problems she is facing in continuing that high performance. They are not as simple as lack of sleep, which is something I am very familiar with through my own children's infancy, now thankfully some time past. Her workplace is being short-changed and she knows it.

      Perhaps your suggestion regarding parental disqualification has prima facie merit, but given the possibility of achieving a reasonable division of labour…

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    32. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Two points:

      You mis-represent me. In regard to social equity, I never suggested a new social norm wherin women who wish to stay home with the kids are forced to work.

      Your comment was. "For the large majority, it's the same person who will defend to the death her right to have as much time with them as she wants"

      There are several strong assertions which here are put up as alinked proposition without any evidence for any of them. "large majority" - "defend to the death" - "right to have as much time with them as she wants"

      I could equally well assert, without evidence, the contrary assertion "For the large majority, women, and their partners would prefer a societal recogniton that flexibility in peoples ability to tailor work to their familial and personal needs is more important than the GDP or the nations bottom line".

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    33. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Craig Minns

      "It's expensive, so there has to be an underlying reason other than some spurious notion of equity."

      You know ... and a I realize that this is a little facile but ... one could argue that many business models typically associated with male competativeness and confrontational modes have been disastrously expensive from the point of view of global social and environmental outcomes. Perhaps moving to a more gender balanced and cooperative business models could have avoided some of these outcomes.

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    34. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      Perhaps a poor choice of words, Fred, but don't get up on your high horse, please. We've had a civil discussion and I have no desire to misrepresent anyone.

      What I was trying to get at is that there is a significant pressure on women to work. Home ownership is very difficult on one income, for a start, since house prices have risen in line with increased disposable income. The messages from Government are all about working women and policies around improving the lot of women at work (very little…

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    35. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      That may be so, but I think this is quite germane

      "Using data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) with its nationally representative sample of Australian women, the authors examine how women moving from their 20s to early 30s change their aspirations for employment (at the age of 35) after significant life events and changes, including the birth of a child. Multinomial logistic regression analyses across two transition periods (N = 7,505 and N = 7,584) showed that…

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    36. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Just as an aside, don't you think it's a shame the women have limited themselves largely to polemics and abusive rants (and recruiting nodding donkeys, of course) and left the discussion to the men?

      Surely this is a subject they could get their teeth into?

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    37. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Craig Minns

      "Women can take a long time to return to their prenatal performance, due to good biological reasons "

      Got any evidence for that, Craig, or just personal opinion again?

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    38. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to Craig Minns

      There was logical argument?? I missed it, can you please repeat - with links to sources we can all review and evaluate.

      All I saw was what appeared to be personal prejudice dressed up with vague references to "workplace surveys". That and the fact that Government bodies and positions have been set up to address discrimination and disadvantage. If you're against the existence of ministers for women etc. then you can't blame us for inferring that you're against overcoming womens' disadvantage. ie: that you're in favour of womens' disadvantage.

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    39. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Yes I have, Lorna, I suggest you read the thread.

      It's sad that someone who claims to be a woman of science is so interested in petty feminist point scoring rather than a fruitful discussion. Perhaps more evidence for the perception that women are less employable than men in labs?

      It also places a big question mark over the integrity of the education such a person might offer to boys in her class. The education of boys is a major failing in our present system.

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    40. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Lorna, you can infer whatever you like, that doesn't make it right.

      If you disagree with my case, put your own instead of leaving it to men to do it for you.

      If you're up to it, of course, which is looking increasingly unlikely. It's much easier to bully boys in class than men who aren't can't be hauled before the principal for talking back, isn't it?

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    41. Meaghan Webster

      PhD student - Environment

      In reply to Craig Minns

      I forgot to hit 'reply' here, but you can read my post further down if you're interested in another perspective that happens to belong to a woman..

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    42. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Meaghan Webster

      Meaghan, I think my post above makes it clear that the lack of such a view is to be regretted.

      Please don't take my expression of the views here as some indication, as some of the other women seem to do, that I regard women as anything less than men. It's simply that there are some aspects of life that men are better at and some in which women excel.

      My gripe is with the feminist paradigm that assumes equality demands that men do worse now because women did worse at some time in the past. The zero-sum game is ultimately an unsatisfying one to "win".

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  3. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    The study is reminiscent of Bertrand and Mullainathan's 2004 paper which sent out resumes with 'white' and 'ethnic' sounding names (http://scholar.harvard.edu/mullainathan/files/emilygreg.pdf), which had similarly alarming results. I'm just curious about the ethics of this type of 'mystery shopping' in academic research. Is it OK?

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    1. Lorna Jarrett

      Former PhD candidate, physics teacher

      In reply to James Jenkin

      James, do you mean the use of deception in research? I haven't used it but yes, understand that such studies are granted ethics approval is they are justified and if participants are appropriately debriefed afterwards.

      In ethics, two main considerations are potential for harm and benefit to participants. If participants' identities are confidential (which they would be), then the potential for harm centres around how a participant would react to knowing they were mislead, and possibly realising they had made a gender-based judgement.

      Bear in mind that human research also involves things like testing new drugs and treatments for illness.

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    2. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Lorna Jarrett

      Thanks Lorna, yes, I had in mind the use of deception. Thank you for the response, it makes sense!

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  4. Chris Booker

    Research scientist

    I'd be curious to see how the results would stack up in non-US universities. Maybe you should be a little more cautious and say 'studies confirms sexism in US science faculty'. Would you expect it to be different in other countries? Who knows, but it's an important limitation.

    I'm in New Zealand and over here, throughout my whole university training and career (in biological sciences), I've always been in classes or workplaces which are very female dominated (apart from one particular paper in…

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    1. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Chris Booker

      I think the bias that is being demonstrated was across disciplines and it may be independant of the typical ratio of male to female people within the scientific field.

      In other words even if the field has higher female to male particpation (for whatever reason) the same CV may be judged more favourably for Christopher than for Christine. I suspect that this might be most strongly reflected in the gender ratios at the top of the career pyramid.

      In my observation, the people that climb the highest…

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Craig Minns

      I noticed similar recently when researching something on Finland, regarded as one of the most gender equal countries in the world.

      Gender Inequality Index 8/138
      Gender Equity Index 2/157
      Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 4/113
      Global Gender Gap Index 3/134

      http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/Gender_Equality_in_Finland

      However, when it comes to professions and courses of study, the majority of women CHOOSE very different fields to the majority of men, and the situation is…

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    3. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Hi Dale, interesting link, There seems to be a definite division of field of endeavour on gender grounds, which is largely self-selected, with some contribution from the normative cultural expectations.

      It's unfortunate that gender theorists don't seem to be able to grasp the idea that most women don't actually want to do the same things that most men do.

      It's dysfunctional thinking.

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  5. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    If I understand the article correctly there is no difference between the "discrimination" or perhaps subconscious bias shown by female faculty or male faculty.

    They certainly don't pay their lab managers very well in the US.
    Whether lab manager is a good proxy for positions relying on a track record of publications or research achievement is another matter. It might be.

    Socially acceptance is high for men and male science students who are more competitive or we find it less confronting when they are competitive than when a young female is competitive and that might play a role in getting that first rung on the ladder. Females will often internalise these values and also place pressures on each other not to be pushy.

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    1. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      There is also a gender difference in number of co-authors and singly authored works and citations. From an old dusty memory - female scientists were reported to be more satisfied with collaborative roles and were less likely to blow their own trumpets (factors which work against them nearer the top of the career ladder).

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  6. Caitlin Whiteman

    logged in via Facebook

    Many of these CV studies have been done in a number of fields and all the ones I've ever seen have similar findings to this one, with some differences according to whether & to what degree the field is seen as typically 'male' or 'female'. There are also similar studies comparing 'ethnic' to Anglo names and you can probably guess what they tend to find.
    I think one way in which universities in particular could start to tackle this issue is to incorporate information, learning and reflection on all these research findings into whatever training or induction occurs for people serving on selection committees. The problem with 'positive discrimination' without any of that learning or information is that it leaves the impression that we are doing special favours for the less competent, rather than doing anything to tackle the incorrect notion that women and non-white people *are* less competent.

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    1. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Caitlin Whiteman

      Well said. I wonder to what extent blinding could be used as well? - at least in the initial applications have name removed (which would convey gender and ethnicity information). It obviously wouldn't apply to the interview stage, but at least on paper in an initial assessment of job worthiness? I can see problems, given someone's background could easily show which country they came from by their university attendance, for example.

      At any rate, scientists in particular are well aware of why blinding is necessary in research, so shouldn't be scared to use it in job assessments. Seems to me it could be one practice contributing to a potential solution. Sad that such a practice should be necessary though.

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  7. Chris Aitchison

    logged in via Twitter

    Your false assertion: "Scientists are biased towards recruiting and encouraging men over women into the profession"

    From the paper: "Participants. We recruited faculty participants from Biology, Chemistry, and Physics departments at three public and three private large, geographically diverse research-intensive universities in the United States..."

    The correct assertion: "Biology, Chemistry and Physics faculty in research-intensive universities in the United States are biased towards recruiting…

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    1. Fred Pribac

      logged in via email @internode.on.net

      In reply to Chris Aitchison

      "Would you take a survey of US attitudes towards gun use and then write an article about how 'our' attitudes are alarming?"

      I would take a survey of US attitudes towards gun use as a prompt for survey and discussion about the same in our society.

      After all we have significant (is it over 50% ?) american content on TV, regular reporting on US politics at a similar priority to Australian politics, American commentators on Q7A and Lateline etc etc etc. Australian social and ploitical parralels with USA are sufficient that where US studies point to issues of concern we should at least have a think about those issues in our context.

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  8. John B

    Analyst

    What are we going to do about it? We will do the same as Defence and put merit in the bin to accomodate more women. What else?

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    1. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to John B

      The study this article is based on used CVs where only the name was modified - so the CVs were identical but respondents rated the CVs bearing a female name as less competent than those with a male name. The problem the study highlights is that young female scientists were *perceived* to have less merit, not *actually* have less merit.

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  9. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    "Study shows that science is made up of individuals whose behaviour reflects what we find in the rest of society..." - I'm shocked, but we have a female prime minister, surely that means sexism is over? thats sarcasm, no body should be suprised by this, there is sexism everywhere and I find it hard to believe that specifically science is overtly sexist compared with any other industry, whether it be males or females that benefit from that sexism.

    Apart from stating the obvious, good article, great read.

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    1. Sally Male

      Researcher in Engineering Education at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Michael Shand

      The paper in PNAS noted above is consistent with many papers finding 'unconscious bias'. Initiatives are in place in universities and other employers of choice for women seeking to address the issue.
      I recommend an article by Rosemary White (2009). A persistent problem is that many of us begin our careers with the expectation evident in some comments above, that unconscious gender bias is unlikely. Until we become aware of the bias we will not recognise our own bias and women will not be prepared for it, accepting their experiences as individual rather than systemic.
      Sally Male
      WA Convenor, Women in Science Enquiry Network (WISENet)

      White, R. (2009). WISENet Where to from here? WISENet Journal, 82, 16-19. http://www.wisenet-australia.org/issue82/wisenet-where-from-here.htm

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    2. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Sally Male

      Hi Sally,

      I posit you are quite wrong and there is nothing "unconscious" in the decision of senior staff to preference male students. I've already given my reasons. What say you?

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  10. Anthony Gunnell

    Research Fellow

    It is certainly interesting to read the various opinions on this. My turn. Let’s assume that there is indeed an imbalance between genders with regards to opportunities, salaries, etc. Furthermore, it is probably safe to assume that a significant proportion of this imbalance relates to the issue of women predominantly being the primary carers for their (and their partner’s) children. This of course makes it very difficult for these women to devote the same amount of time towards their career as…

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    1. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Anthony Gunnell

      Anthony, I think you'll find that nearly all couples divide the repsponsibility for pickups between them. That doesn't go to the point, I'm afraid. Who does the school ring when one of the kids is sick? Why do they ring that person?

      Who does the bulk of nurturing-type activities? If its you I'd be surprised.

      There are some aspects of being human which do not readily adapt to suit our constructs, even in Sweden, which I don't see as a worthwhile model for very much at all. Its much vaunted liberalism is under ever-increasing strain as the fairly homogenous society becomes mixed with people of other races and cultures.

      Humans are very good at looking after "us", but we don't much like taking care of "them".

      If highly qualified women wish to re-enter the workforce post-childbirth that's great, but it shouldn't be at the expense of either productivity or the people who have prioritised work more highly. That's not equitable.

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  11. Robert Tony Brklje
    Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    It is all down to the high art of sexual harassment and discrimination. What behaviour is paying too much attention, what behaviour is paying too little attention, what behaviour will stress the whole workplace and reduce productivity overall.
    So 'You Must Learn How', well, some and often quite a few and quite bad at it, inherently you must work with what is available and if a substantial portion are not socially agile and struggle in certain workplace environments, do you deny yourself their talents…

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  12. Meaghan Webster

    PhD student - Environment

    Craig you bring up some valid points but how I wish you didn't make snide remarks about the validity of Lorna Jarrett's comments, and relate them back largely to her gender. Similarly, Fred Pribac certainly raises some really good points and your discussion has been an interesting one, but I'm not sure your comments on 'leaving the real discussion for the men' are particularly helpful to your cause; there are only about a dozen commenters on this page and that Fred happens to be a male I think is…

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    1. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Meaghan Webster

      Meaghan, thank you for the lengthy and considered reply. I'm always interested in the way people take my comments and I'm fascinated when I'm castigated for comments perceived as "snide" that are made in response to empty, shallow and essentially abusive remarks such as those from Lorna. You'll not that in all my comments to Lorna I'm mainly trying to get her to comment sensibly instead of knee-jerking and blowing the dog-whistle, which is simply a distraction.

      I'll take a little time to properly formulate a response to the rest of your points. I don't think we're a million miles apart.

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    2. Chris Booker

      Research scientist

      In reply to Meaghan Webster

      "The assumption is that working long hours tirelessly for years on end and prioritising work over family is a good thing for the economy and for the country, but I wholly disagree. If we had a radically different approach to working, one that recognises peoples' need to be with the people they love, spend time alone, relax, get enough sleep, seek knowledge, find happiness outside the shopping mall etc., then the long term benefits to society would far outweigh any initial capital"

      Completely agree, certainly in my research area of diabetes there's a very strong argument that working less would be better, and given the risk factors for many other non-communicable diseases are shared, the same could be said that working less could even be better for heart disease and some cancers.

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    3. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Chris Booker

      I find it hard to disagree with anything you've said Meaghan. You're expressing my own sense that we are all being taken for a ride and being forced into doing things we don't want to, for reasons that aren't really satisfying.

      At the moment, the two-income family, with both parents working full-time, leaves the kids short-changed but it is necessary in order to prosper and own a home and be middle-class, which is the standard aspiration. If that can be changed and the country continue to prosper as it should, which seems reasonable given that we have so much automated assistance available so casually, then your excellent suggestions could be implemented. I suspect there might be some difficulties getting to that point though, because there are lots of factors driving us to keep working, for the next 30 or 40 years anyway, as the baby boom wave dissipates. After that, who knows?

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  13. Dan A'Vard

    Environmental Consultant and Storyteller

    Interesting article. Also interesting that the article uses a chart that exaggerates the discrepancy in salaries by not having a zero crossing on the Y axis. The way that it is drawn indicates a discrepancy of roughly 350% whereas the actual discrepancy is approximately 20%. In any case, there is no grounds for such discrimination in any industry on any grounds.

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    1. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Dan A'Vard

      "there is no grounds for such discrimination in any industry on any grounds."

      A very sweeping statement, Dan. I can think of a couple of industries off the top of my head in which discrimination on gender grounds is essential and some in which it is not essential, but a sensible way for the employer to bet.

      Some require women and some require men. I'm afraid your comments aren't convincing, as absolutist statements rarely are.

      I do agree with your comment with respect to the graphing method used, although such a mode is quite common and is used to allow the axis to be expanded in the range of interest, whilst ignoring the largely empty space of the rest of the chart. It allows for a better understanding of the important stuff through better detail.

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    2. Dan A'Vard

      Environmental Consultant and Storyteller

      In reply to Craig Minns

      I'm not sure that I agree completely Craig. In every case, the best candidate for a position should be selected. In some industries there may be gender sensitivities, but even still that is not necessarily a grounds for discrimination. The best candidate for whatever position should be selected and paid not according to their gender, but according to their suitability and ability. In some cases say muslim women's health, women may be the only suitable candidates, but this is not discrimination as such, but an objective assessment with respect to the requirements of a position.

      With regards to the chart, I understand the use of such a scale, however great care must be taken such that this scale does not distort the data you are representing. In this case it does and for me, somewhat lessened the impact of the article.

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    3. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Dan A'Vard

      The problem is that in a world in which decisions have to be made on probabilities, such as the one described in the article, or such as obtains in any selection process that isn't random, then gender is likely to be a factor that has to be given weight. A woman has to be extra good to be given a "male" job, because of the gender-related factors and a man has to be extra good in a "female"role, for similar reasons.

      Not saying it can't be done, but it's not that easy, I reckon. It costs extra time and money and risks picking a candidate that still won't be the "best" if they don't fill the tacit requirements as well as the explicit ones.

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