Gender bias in research: A myth or reality?

Gender bias in research: A myth or reality?

Does Hookup Matter? Of course it does. But does it matter enough to Matter? That’s a different question.
Vera Rubin, Astronomer: Established the presence of dark matter in galaxies in the 1970s
The generalization that fellows are from Mars and women are from Venus is arguably among the most popular gender-related cliches of all times. The cliche alludes to differences in the manner in which boys and women perceive, interpret, and treatment various aspects of and situations in life. But when a generalization such as this commences to influence the opportunities available to fellows and women in professional fields, including researchers or scientists, it assumes a different significance. Simply put, when the professional capabilities of masculine or female researchers are evaluated on the basis of their gender, it leads to an imbalance in the career growth opportunities available to both. Ideally, the arena of research, where conclusions are drawn only after objective evaluation, should not witness gender discrimination. But several researchers and individuals from within academia have spoken about the existence of a gender bias in various fields of research.1, Two, Trio, Four Some studies focused on scientists have also found that female researchers have it more difficult than their masculine counterparts. Here, I discuss three latest small-scale but significant, studies that investigated gender bias in the field of research.

The Yale investigate

In what came to be referred as “the Yale investigate of 2012,” a group of researchers from Yale University conducted an experiment on scientists to look for evidence of gender bias. They tested the hypothesis that the scientists in their lab were not likely to be biased because they were trained to be objective. But the evidence they gathered indicated that a subtle gender bias does persist, even however academics themselves may not be aware of discriminating inbetween masculine and female researchers. In their randomized double-blind probe, they asked 127 experienced science faculty to assess an application for a laboratory manager position. All 127 participants received the same application, but with a masculine or female name. The assessment results exposed that the participants tended to rate the masculine applicant more positively than the female applicant (Fig. 1). The masculine applicants were also selected for a higher salary range than the female applicants (Fig. Two). Mediation analyses conducted by the researchers exposed that the participants perceived the female applicant as being less competent. The two figures below (from the original published investigate) indicate what they found:

 

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America (PNAS) website: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474.total (Copyright: Corinne A. Moss-Racusin et al.) 

The investigators concluded that interventions at the faculty level could help eliminate instances of subconscious gender discrimination exhibited by their investigate participants.

The examine that compared natural talent and brilliance

Conventional wisdom insists that in order to succeed one needs raw talent or natural brilliance and hard work. But in some fields, success is considered to be driven by raw talent and in others, hard work means more than the application of inborn talent. Stepping off on this premise, Sarah-Jane Leslie, Andrei Cimpian, Meredith Meyer, and Edward Freeland examined whether this generalization influences female representation and success in certain fields. The researchers set out to examine whether women had less access to or were less likely to choose/succeed in fields that required brilliance or talent. They hypothesized that “across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, inborn talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent.” The researchers surveyed 1,820 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members across 30 disciplines from 9 major US research institutions, asking them to rate the value of inborn talent or aptitude and sustained hard work in order to succeed in their field.

The researchers found that women were less likely to obtain PhDs in STEM fields that were associated with genius or brilliance. Going one step further, the researchers extended their hypothesis (which they termed the field-specific capability beliefs hypothesis) “to African Americans’ underrepresentation as well, as this group is subject to similar stereotypes.”  Though further explore may be required to confirm that these findings can be applied to specific ethnic groups, this probe does highlight the bias at work in STEM fields. 

The probe on how boys and women react to evidence of gender bias in STEM

Another latest investigate by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, Aneta K. Molenda, and Charlotte R. Cramer investigated public responses to evidence of gender bias within the STEM fields. Employing a thematic and quantitative analyses, the probe examined 831 comments posted on the comments section of three online news articles (Fresh York Times, Detect Magazine blog, and the IFL science blog) that reported gender bias in STEM, to check for gender differences, if any, in the nature of the comments posted. The investigations exposed that masculine respondents were more likely to post negative comments on gender bias, i.e., guys were less likely to agree with or accept evidence supporting gender bias in STEM. The researchers also found that masculine respondents were more likely to post sexist or biased responses than female respondents. Below is a summary of their findings:

  • 423 of 831 comments (51% of the total sample) were used for analyses directly related to gender discrimination. 
  • 95% of commenters had posted negative comments against women.
  • 88% of the comments included a biological justification for the results being discussed.
  • 85% criticized the studies on gender bias in STEM (or the results of these studies).
  • 68% denied the existence of gender bias or sexism in STEM. 
  • Incidentally, the percentages of masculine commenters in the negative valences were higher than those of the female commenters. In addition, female commenters were more likely to post positive reactions, e.g., admitting the existence of gender bias.

The researchers admit that albeit their examine has its own limitations, their method does draw attention to the negative responses of guys to the existence of gender discrimination against women in STEM.

Conclusion

Social and cultural constructs of gender as well as perceptions of what studs or women are capable of achieving obstruct scientific development. They question the very basis of research and scientific enquiry – objectivity and absence of all kinds of bias. That gender stereotypes play a role in various aspects of life is well known, but studies such as these prove that gender discrimination is exercised, albeit subtly or subconsciously, in scientific fields as well. Each of these studies also indicates the need for different types of intervention at the faculty and student levels to enable researchers to make conscious, unbiased career choices based on what they are sultry about and capable of, irrespective of their gender. Perhaps such studies should be conducted on a larger scale and across the globe, to help understand the extent of discrimination and introduce relevant amendments.

Sources

1. What does it take to reach the top?

Two. In the Ivory Tower, Boys Only

Three. Quiet desperation of academic women

Four. Academia for women: brief maternity leave, few part-time roles and lower pay

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