Study demonstrates sexism in science

by Jolene Tan // 19 November 2012, 15:00

Magnifying glass over a document, showing the words 'Job Application'.jpgYou might recall the European Union's rather ill-conceived attempt to address the gender imbalance in science by releasing "Science: It's a Girl Thing" - a video featuring much giggling, cosmetics and high heels, and not so much, well, science. As F Word guest blogger Luzia Troebinger wryly noted, "The only positive thing that can be said about it is that it disappeared rather quickly."

Luzia also pointed out:

Aside from all the obvious things wrong with this, there is a more subtle point here: the assumption that the problem is women not being interested in science.

I don't believe this is true.

Women do find science interesting. Women love technology. And we are every bit as capable of studying science and engineering as men are.

The problem lies elsewhere. Women are often deterred from pursuing a career in science or engineering because of the 'boy's club' atmosphere encountered in the workplace. It is the playground mentality of 'no girls allowed' that discourages a lot of us.

Enter yet another piece of evidence for this: a study published in PNAS looked at the responses of tenured scientists in several US universities to a fictitious job application. In some cases the candidate was named "Jennifer", in others "John", but otherwise they were indistinguishable. Quelle surprise - as Physics World reports:

The study found not only that the scientists rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant, but also that the hirers would have given the male student a higher starting salary. "Male and female science-faculty members, including physicists, said they were more likely to hire the male student," says Moss-Racusin. "They also offered to pay him about $4000 more per year on average and were more likely to offer him career mentoring, relative to the identical female student."

I'm a little sceptical that lots of shots of pastel pink and sunglasses are going to do much to eradicate these biases, or to make female scientists feel any more at home in an environment where top journals have been known to find sexism hilarious.

Image shared by Ann Arbor District Library under a Creative Commons license.

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