Time to Talk About Bias in Science

Women in ScienceThe fact that women are profoundly underrepresented in the STEM fields is not a new revelation. However, coverage of this phenomenon predominantly focuses its analysis on what women are doing wrong rather than the factors that are inhibiting them from achieving success as a scientist or engineer.

In Periodic Tables, Gender Bias and Stereotypes, Ainissa Ramirez explains how women are doomed from the moment they submit an application:

“Last year, an elegant study performed by Yale scientists reported in PNAS.  The researchers used blind tests by giving potential employers similar resumes of potential candidates.  The resumes were the same, but one was affiliated with John and the other with Jennifer.  (There were no Johns are Jennifers harmed in this study, they were false names on false resumes.) Additionally, the candidates were not stellar candidates. They were ‘good-enough’ scientists but not future stars. The data came back and John was always rated higher than Jennifer.  John was also offered more money. Ouch!”

The data provided by the Yale study is vital to enacting change in the STEM fields. Definitive proof of bias against women will serve as a no excuses wake up call for companies and universities who are neglecting to hire otherwise qualified women on the basis of their gender.

Eradicating bias is also a necessary component of cultivating a positive work environment for women. Tales of sexist jokes told at board meetings or inappropriate jokes at tech conferences are pervasive and completely counterproductive to the promotion of equality.

In the workplace, it seems that as per usual, the first step towards equality is judging a woman by her qualifications and performance rather than body parts or outfits. Not a particularly profound concept, but far more difficult to implement that many could have anticipated.


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