Sexual discrimination in science: why we must act now

women in scienceFrom the guardian:

Can it be that women are treated less fairly than men? A deceptively simple piece of research led by Jo Handelsman at Yale University has recently suggested that they are. The authors created application forms purporting to be from a recent science graduate wanting a laboratory manager job and asking for feedback. In total, 127 faculty members were asked to rank the candidate in terms of competence, starting salary they would offer, willingness to mentor the candidate, and likeability. The only difference in the applications was the name of the student – 63 were from “John” and 64 were from “Jennifer”.

The results were stark. Jennifer was ranked less competent than John and was offered a median starting salary almost $4,000 lower than John. In addition, the faculty was less willing to mentor Jennifer, but, strangely, found her to be more likeable. All this from a piece of paper. I should point out here that there was no statistically significant difference between the responses from male or female faculty, nor were there differences between levels of faculty, suggesting this is not a hierarchical bias.

So, what does this mean? The study was nuanced – the CV was deliberately designed to represent a good, but not stellar, candidate. This is a key point. When faced with a candidate who is clearly exceptional, gender rarely matters. This is because it doesn’t require thought to come to the conclusion of excellence. By the same token, a candidate who is really not good is also definable without much thought. However, for the large chunk of people who inhabit the “grey zone”, where subjective and objective evaluations matter, the outcome of this study indicates that men get the breaks where women do not.

[Read the rest: guardian]