A recent study from researchers at Yale indicated an ongoing bias from science professors at American universities who often regard female undergraduates as being less capable than their male counterparts with the same education and skill sets, The New York Timesreports.
Often, professors were less likely to offer mentoring or a job to their female students, the study found. Even when females were offered jobs, the pay was less for the same job.
The bias permeated throughout the group of professors- scientists suggested perhaps the bias was based on subconscious cultural influences as opposed to blatant discrimination.
The study showed female professors to be just as biased as male professors, and physics professors as much as biology professors. Overwhelmingly, men outnumber women as physics majors and women outnumber men as biology majors.
Professor of cellular, molecular and developmental biology at Yale, Jo Handelsman commented on the findings:
“I think we were all just a little bit surprised at how powerful the results were — that not only do the faculty in biology, chemistry and physics express these biases quite clearly, but the significance and strength of the results was really quite striking.”
Handelsman was one of the chief authors of an article which reported the study’s findings, on Monday.
According to professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nancy Hopkins, the findings in the study were “enormously important” in the discourse about barriers for women in sciences.
In order to avoid complications, such as whether preferential treatment is given to women through affirmative action or whether innate differences actually exist between women and men in sciences and math, researchers designed a very simple study.
Professors in biology, physics, and chemistry departments were contacted from six universities and asked to evaluate an application seeking the position as a laboratory manager from a recent graduate.
The fabricated applicant was named John half of the time and Jennifer the other half. All professors received a summary where the student was proficient but not particularly outstanding.
With seven being the highest on a scale of 1-7, John received an average score of 4, where Jennifer received a score of 3.3 with the same application.
According to Handelsman, similar studies have been done with other occupations but she believes scientist can overcome such subconscious bias because of their training to analyze objective data:
“I began to, on the one hand, wonder, ‘Well, perhaps that’s true: maybe people who are trained to be objective have some way of ferreting these out. But on the other hand, if scientists were no different from all the other groups that have been studied, that’s something that we should know.”