Even though a majority of university students are female, in most research areas a minority of senior professors are female. It is thought that one of the important causes of this is gender bias: women not being given the same professional opportunities as men. Often this bias is unconscious (so-called “implicit bias”) (1). Gender does not refer to ‘sex’(male/female) but the social construct of what it mean to be man, woman or non-binary.
Expectations, in relation to behavior, attitude and competencies, are often influenced by traditional gender roles and stereotypes. These expectations influence how people approach you. For example, the competence people expect you to have or not to have, influences whether you are encouraged to pursue a career in science or not, whether they invite you for a job interview or not, and whether they develop and promote your career – or not.
When selecting candidates for assistant professorships, committee members tend to look for someone “who has the potential to survive in the competitive academic world by being productive, confident, committed to the profession, and internationally mobile.” (2) Men are more often perceived by others to possess these characteristics than women. Gender bias can manifest itself in a number of situations: in working conditions (such as job security), in recruitment and career advancement, and when awarding grants. For example, researchers from the University of California studied video recordings of job interviews across five engineering departments of research universities (3). They found that female candidates received more questions and were interrupted more often. Women had less time to deliver their message than men. This study illustrates the phenomenon of “stricter standards” of competence that are demanded of women compared to men when applying for a masculine-typed job.
It seems that the people who reached to top positions in the current system are mainly ‘alpha males’. This means that there is also a group of men that is underrepresented in these positions. Keep in mind: even if all people in top positions are men, not all men are in top positions. Moreover, we speak of ‘men’ and ‘women’ here. This excludes yet another group of people who do not identify as either one of them.
Gender bias goes against the principles of research integrity, and is detrimental to good science.
Students, PhD Students, Scientists, Researchers, Academic staff, Research institutions, Policy makers, Supervisors
A working paper by LERU sets out the following recommendations (4):
1. Gvozdanović J, Maes K. Implicit bias in academia: A challenge to the meritocratic principle and to women‘s careers-And what to do about it. 2018.
2. Herschberg, C., Benschop, Y., van den Brink, M. (2018). The peril of potential: Gender practices in the recruitment and selection of early career researchers. Gender and Precarious Research Careers, 111-1424.
3. Blair-Loy, M.; Rogers, L.E.; Glaser, D.; Wong, Y.L.A.; Abraham, D.; Cosman, P.C. (2017) Gender in Engineering Departments: Are There Gender Differences in Interruptions of Academic Job Talks? Social Sciences, 6: 29.
4. League of European Research Universities. Implicit bias in academia: A challenge to the meritocratic principle and to women’s careers – and what to do about it. ADVICE PAPER no.23 - January 2018, Available at: https://www.leru.org/files/Publications/Implicit-bias-in-academia-Full-Paper.pdf. Accessed May 2019.
Hugh Desmond, Fenneke Blom contributed to this theme.
Latest contribution was June 24, 2019