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Gender Bias An Obstacle To Women In The Sciences

If you've ever cringed upon hearing the taunting cry of "you throw like a girl!" from out on the middle school playground, this Moment of Science is for you.

black and white male and female icons

Photo: idban secandri (Flickr)

Do you believe there is a gender bias in science?

A group of researchers at Yale University has published an eye opening study that shows how much our society’s gender biases against women don’t stop on the playground. In fact, they extend all the way to our universities’ science departments.

Inside The Study

The researchers took a new approach to the question of why so many fewer women than men pursue careers in biology, chemistry and physics. Their project was pretty straightforward: 127 science professors evaluated an application from a made up undergraduate student who was seeking a position as a lab manager.

All of the applications were identical, except for one thing: on half of them, the student’s name was marked “John,” and on the other half, it was labeled “Jennifer.”

Responses

The responses revealed a lot about how long standing negative stereotypes still shape professors’ attitudes toward women in the sciences. Even though “Jennifer” received higher likability ratings, “John” received higher scores for competence and hire ability from both male and female evaluators.

Suggested starting salaries were higher for “John’s” application, and professors who read “John’s” application also indicated a greater willingness to offer the student mentorship and career development opportunities. Basically, what it came down to was this: with all other factors being equal, it was “John” over “Jennifer”–male over female.

Gender Conclusions

That conclusion isn’t particularly heartening for women in the sciences. But remember, although the findings seem bleak, research like this is an important first step toward increasing public awareness.

After all, it’s only once we recognize our own subconscious biases that we can begin to combat them.

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