osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Some links on the problem of Sex Discrimination in STEM

STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) has proven an oddly tough nut to crack on gender imbalance and outright sex discrimination. These studies shed some light on why. Below cut.

The first was a study where professors in STEM were asked to evaluate identical fictional resumes of students with male and female names for possible jobs as research assistants. The study found:

1. Professors, on average, ranked identical resumes with female names as less suitable, were less likely to offer to mentor the student, and -- if offering the female student a job -- offered a much lower starting salary.

2. Surprisingly, this effect was observed equally among both male and female academics. i.e., Female academics were as negative toward the "female" student as were male academics.

3. None of the professors used sexist language in their written evaluation. i.e., nothing would indicate to any applicant that gender played a role on their evaluation.

4. There appeared no obvious bias for male candidates, merely a consistent bias against female candidates.

Study: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109#aff-1

Blogs discussing study:


A separate blog discusses physicians in particular, and the apparent $17K pay gap among physicians. What is notable here is that you actually do get explicit sexism, albeit dressed up in a scientific tone. In particular, the "baby" rationale. i.e., why waste time training a female doctor when she is just gong to get pregnant and switch to a more child-friendly job? The comments also reflected a strong resistance to the idea that sexism could be a motivating factor.


I happen to have some strong opinions as to the "biological argument." Setting aside the fact that I am rather stunned to find this presented as a rationale argument, it contains the assumption that it will be the woman (and only the woman) who adjusts her career. (The comments supporting the "biological" explanation were concerned not with the loss of several months for the birth, or any potential injury to the fetus, but with the idea that a woman who had a child would inevitably need to change career track.)

This is self-fulfilling on the male side of the equation as well, as well as self-reenforcing. Men interested in advancing their medical career either need to chose different specialities where they can set "mommy track" hours or face the opprobrium of their colleagues, with concomitant loss of career advancement. This, of course, reenforces the pattern in the profession as a whole. Not only is this "the way it is done," but those who gave up being involved in their children's upbringing or who chose alternative career tracks to enable them doing so are likely to resent those who have beter options.

I also note demographically that STEM is an area where experience still translates into greater decisionmaking authority and where the lengthy training and career track means that it takes a longer time (compared to some other professions) to bring in new blood and new attitudes. Finally, it is a field where its practitioners believe they are more logical and not subject to human prejudices or frailties. (I often am reminded on the delightful line from Snow Crash: "Sexist as only twenty-year old men convinced they are too smart to be sexist can be."

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