In case you were hiding under a rock, or spending time in the supply cabinet with your lab partner, here are the unfortunate remarks of Tim Hunt, the 72-year-old biochemist and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, as reported in the June 11, 2015, New York Times:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls,” Mr. Hunt told an audience [on Monday] at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”
What was unfortunate about Mr. Hunt's remarks was that they were spoken aloud. By voicing what most silently believed, he has ripped away the transparent illusion of equal opportunity.
He has also clearly confirmed a 2012 study by Corrine Moss-Racusin and her colleagues at Yale University, which revealed that academic scientists are, on average, biased against women.
To test scientist’s reactions to men and women with precisely equal qualifications, the researchers did a randomized double-blind study in which academic scientists were given application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position. The substance of the applications were all identical, but sometimes a male name was attached, and sometimes a female name.
Results: female applicants were rated lower than men on the measured scales of competence, hireability, and mentoring (whether the scientist would be willing to mentor this student). Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.
If that were not sad enough, the scientists offered a mean starting salary of $26,507.94, to the female candidate. This was significantly lower than $30,238.10 that was offered to the male candidate. The study's authors write that "faculty members of both genders appear to be affected by enduring cultural stereotypes about women’s lack of science competence that translate into biases in student evaluation and mentoring."
That salary differential carries through to fields outside of academia, according to a 2013 Catalyst report.
Salaries of Women in Science (As Compared to Salaries of Men)
||Women's Salary as a % of Men's Salary
||Women's Median Salary
||Men's Median Salary
|Computer and Information Scientist
So if girls can survive the teasing, hazing and discouragement of their high school and undergraduate training in the sciences, they will find little encouragement at universities to pursue postgraduate degrees. The fact that the lack of support is not rooted in hostility, but only cultural stereotypes, probably does not make it any easier for the women.
Once they have completed their education, the same sexual stereotypes, whether conscious or not, lead employers (of either gender) to be twice as likely to hire a man than to hire a woman, according to a 2014 study. And if they are hired, they are likely to be paid less.
If a woman is determined enough to pursue a career in one of the STEM fields, her road is strewn with a variety of obstacles, from childcare to gender bias. And for a woman of color these obstacles are often higher still, so it is a wonder that they make up 11.7 percent of all working engineers and scientists in the United States.
A 2014 study by the Center for Talent Innovation revealed that black women want, from their professional life, the ability to flourish (91 percent), to excel (89 percent), to reach for meaning and purpose (85 percent), to earn well (81 percent), and to empower others and be empowered themselves (73 percent).
Although women of color are represented at the assistant professor level, as they progress in their academic careers, their share of the advanced positions drops, as it does for all women, but to a greater degree. Women are 44.4 percent of all assistant professors, 38 percent of all associate professors and 21.9 percent of all professors.
, co-authored by Joan C. Williams of the University of California's Hastings College of Law, Kathrine W. Phillips of the Columbia Business School, and Erika V. Hall of Emory University's Goizueta Business School, has taken a look at gender bias, with particular emphasis on gender bias against women of color in science. Studying the existing literature and conducting interviews and a survey, they reported on the four most common patterns of sexual bias.
Pattern 1: Prove-it-Again. Women are often required to repeatedly display their abilities and competence in order to be considered on a par with their male colleagues. Black women reported this more often than other groups (76.9 percent), while Latinas, Asian-Americans and white women reported it 64.5 percent, 63.6 percent, and 62.7 percent respectively.
Pattern 2: The Tightrope. In order to be seen as competent, women must sometimes act in a masculine manner while remaining feminine enough to be likable, but not too feminine as to be seen as incompetent. Asian-American scientists were more likely to be expected to act in a traditional feminine manner and reported backlash for stereotypically masculine behaviors such as assertiveness and self-promotion. Latinas reported being criticized for being angry or too emotional when they displayed assertive behavior, even when there was no anger involved. Assertive behavior from black women seems to be better tolerated than the same behavior from white women as long as they did not appear to be an "angry Black woman."
Pattern 3: The Maternal Wall. The maternal wall affects women of all races. When they have children, their commitment to their work and their competence is questioned. This maternal wall has been reported by two-thirds of the women in the research project. After the children are born, opportunities begin to dry up.
Pattern 4: Tug-of-War. Although three-quarters of the women in the project agreed that women supported each other, black women were less likely to agree (56.0 percent). A third of the Latinas expressed difficulty with getting the administrative support team to support them as did some of the black women. Seventy percent of the Asian-American women felt that “some women had just ‘turned into men.’”
Pattern 5: Isolation. The study also identified this fifth pattern that they have called Isolation. This pattern of bias is one in which 42 percent of black women and 38 percent of Latinas feel that social interactions with colleagues could adversely affect the perceptions others have of their competence. Some sense an awkwardness on the part of the whites in dealing with people of color. Almost half of the Latinas and black women reported having been mistaken for administrative or custodial staff.
The women of color attribute the Tightrope and the Maternal Wall to gender bias, although blacks felt there was racial bias as well. Black scientists also felt that race played a greater role in the Prove-it-Again bias than did gender.
The conclusion of the report offers a note of optimism:
An important point, sometimes overlooked, is that while bias is rampant, glimpses of hope also emerge from these interviews – situations where women of color experienced support and success despite the difficulties faced. Specifically, some of the scientists felt that their cultural and racial traditions armed them well to encounter the challenges they faced.
This report concludes by introducing a new approach to organizational change to interrupt gender bias, called Metrics-Based Bias Interrupters (Williams, 2014). In contrast to traditional one-off bias trainings, and traditional sensitivity based organizational change initiatives, Bias Interrupters uses a four-step iterative process: 1) identify how gender bias is playing out, if at all, in basic business systems (recruiting, assignments, evaluations, etc.), 2) develop objective metrics to measure bias, 3) implement a bias interrupter to interrupt the bias, 4) see whether the relevant metric improves and, if it doesn’t, strengthen or modify the intervention.
Whatever it is that employers in the STEM fields have been doing to end racial and gender bias, it hasn't been working. The Metrics-Based Bias Interrupters may not be an answer, but it may provide a start.
According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, we will be facing a deficit of a million scientists if our current rates of training in STEM continue. We simply cannot afford to waste the talents of scientists who happen to have lady parts, regardless of the color of their skin.
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