Women in science: Why So Few?

Many of you probably saw the New York Times article yesterday on the report issued by the American Association of University Women called “Why So Few?  Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.”  (See also Inside Higher Ed’s report, which goes into a bit more detail.)  It’s a comprehensive review of the literature on sex and STEM fields, ranging from elementary school through grad school experiences and into the STEM workplace.  I’ve skimmed the 134-page report–readers here will probably be most interested in the chapters on stereotype threat and achievement in STEM fields (chapter 3), the college student experience (chapter 6), university and college faculty (chapter 7), and workplace bias (chapter 9). 

Those of you who work with young children–either as educators or as parents, or both–will want to pay close attention to the advice the AAUW offers in chapter 2 regarding beliefs about intelligence.  The report describes the contrast between a “Fixed Mind-Set” (the belief that intelligence is essentially static) and the “Growth Mind-Set” (the belief that intelligence can be developed).  Children with the “Growth Mind-Set” embrace challenges rather than run from them and are persistent, they see effort as critical to intellectual mastery, and they learn from critical feedback–all skills that they’ll need if they’re going to achieve in any field, STEM or non-STEM.

I was particularly interested in “Why So Few”‘s discussion of workplace bias in chapter 9.  It argues that both competence and likability are critical to workplace advancement (as measured by promotions, salary increases, and the like.)  This chapter details several studies that demonstrate that the more success women have in traditionally male fields, the less likable they’re perceived to be–the classic “double-bind” that limits women’s advancement.  This won’t be particularly surprising to most of you regulars at Historiann.com, but it’s a fascinating, granular look at that ol’ devil, patriarchal equilibrium, in action.  Even when women succeed by any measure–even after running the gauntlet of hostile academic departments as students and earning their Ph.D.s, M.D.s, and the like–they’re “rewarded” by permanent second-class status however they style themselves.  (That is, when they’re perceived as more “successful,” they’re punished for being cold, pushy, b!tchy, demanding, and obnoxious.  When they succumb to the pressure to be likable, they’re seen as incapable pushovers and aren’t taken seriously.) 

Remember our old “Lessons For Girls,” especially #1, “Anger,” and #7, “It’s okay if not everyone likes you.”  Maybe we should add another lesson, “You’ll pay a price, one way or the other?”

I know that many of you–in STEM and non-STEM fields alike–have experienced this in your school and work lives.  Tell us your stories.

0 thoughts on “Women in science: Why So Few?

  1. In what is really a bit of shameless plugging, tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day, which is dedicated to women in science. One of the blogs I do a bit of blogging for have a post today and tomorrow on women in science from a historical perspective. The posts were written by two different people about the Victorian scientists Hertha Ayrton and Mary Somerville and coincidently both point out that there was a huge tension in these women’s lives between trying to be successful women and successful scientists. Thought it might add a nice historical perspective to this discussion!

    Check out http://blog.womenshistorynetwork.org/


  2. One thing I have noticed that in my country of origin, education and science/technology are highly valued. A woman with an advanced degree has social status. I think brainy women & brawny men are seen as normal there.

    My daughters though, do not like science. Science & tech , according to my 13yo, are the cause of the ills of the world. (She does like and do well in Math.)
    I think that must be a media message to both genders here? Both parents have engineering degrees, but I suppose we do not model as sufficiently techie to overcome this?

    So if overall for this generation, STE is not cool, then there would be even less girls attracted to it.


  3. I hope I can post this anonymously. Those who have suffered the most from discrimination will be unable to talk about it. Women who have lost their careers because of it are blamed for the damage done to them in exactly the way rape victims are. It’s not OK if not everyone likes you. The most common defense for employers who practice job discrimination is “We just didn’t like her. She was just a bitch”; women who want to avoid the reality of just how legal job discrimination against women is will eagerly adopt this, even if they supported the woman when it looked like she had a chance.

    Along with the loss of the means of supporting oneself, this is the most devastating consequence and it is the most silencing: women will do anything, including twisting the knife in the victim, rather than admit how bad women’s chances are at getting and keeping any job outside the women’s ghettos, at women’s wages.

    It is not that the facts are not there. Over and over women will switch premises, make excuses and above all, blame the victim, rather than look at the facts. The pattern for me has been, Oh, no, that’s awful, have you… and then a list of non-remedies I’d exhausted or found out didn’t exist years ago. Then the advice comes to “put it behind you” – when blacklisting, the inevitable consequence of opposing discrimination, makes that impossible even if one had the dubious moral and ethical ability to forget all about it. Then the victim blaming starts: “You should choose your battles (only the ones you can win easily, the ones that don’t matter to employers)”. Or “I believed you until it ‘kept happening’.” (In the absence of laws and law enforcement, job discrimination will ‘keep happening’, same as rape will ‘keep happening’, violence against wives and girlfriends will ‘keep happening’ – that is, men will keep doing it, because they can.). Or “No one ever did that to me. I probably scared them” from a woman near the top in a woman’s field, who cut and ran the one time she experienced from a male rival what women in IT go through as matter of course.

    In the case I brought that ended a career in IT built over twenty years, that ended my ability to support myself in dignity and reasonable comfort and that made the kind of poverty intentionally imposed legally only on criminals what I will face for the rest of my life, every one of the laws and safeguards, not only of Title VII, but of the court procedures themselves were simply set aside. There were no consequences. When I tell people the extent of this, they refuse to believe it. When I’ve been able to show them in spite of the willful blindness of most, the rationalizations start.

    The place to look for the reality of what women face is not in any of the male owned media. It is in the courts, in what once were the impossible to reach district cases and the unpublished circuit court cases. This is where women’s chances at real equality have died.

    Two recent innovations make it a little harder for this to stay hidden: Google Scholar has a beta search engine that functions like a basic Lexis for case searches and Shepardizing. There’s also a Firefox browser add-on called RECAP that downloads district court documents as they are accessed within PACER to a publicly available database, http://www.archive.org.

    (There is no way I know of to track the initial and most effective barrier to employment equality for women: lawyers will not take sex discrimination cases. There’s too little money, it’s too hard to win and most don’t believe employment is a right women need or deserve anyway. Within the small subset of cases they do take, the push is -always- for settlement with a gag order and without trial, with no effect on other women’s employment at all. The one or two cases that make the headlines are too few to deter employers or help the majority of victims. Most of the employment cases you see with female plaintiffs are race discrimination cases within gender segregated fields. Lawyers will take those.)


  4. Anonymous: I have some friends (one in a STEM field, another in a non-STEM but male dominated humanities field) that this has happened to more than once. I agree with you that other women (as well as other men) will blame the victim rather than the system, because of their need to believe that it won’t happen to them. I was once that woman too, who needed to believe that I had it all figured out and I could succeed where others couldn’t.

    In my previous job (non-STEM, of course), I was the 5th woman in a tenure line that had been held by 4 other women over 13 years before I took the job. I was reassured that what had happened to them wouldn’t happen to me: all of the other women were crazzy b!tches, or their personal lives made the job impossible, or they were unproductive scholars, or some or all of the above. Clearly, the work environment wasn’t at all to blame–each of those women had failed or chosen to leave because of their special, particular, unique circumstances. But *I* was talented, *I* was going to publish my work, *I* was going to succeed because *I* was special.

    And guess what happened? *I* too became a crazzy b!tch, *I* was never going to stay there anyway, *I* was just an Ivy-League East Coast snob, *I* was always making trouble, *I* was a bad teacher, *I* didn’t have the right priorities.

    Amazing, isn’t it? What a track record for hiring crazzy b!tches!


  5. Thank you for that, Historiann.

    And very good point – how often can employers use that “crazy bitch” routine before it comes back on them?

    I think you do an admirable job of keeping yours and still calling them out.


  6. Unfortunately, Anonymous, I think they can use that “crazzy b!tch” strategy indefinitely, because (as you noted above) there’s such a strong need for other people in the organization to believe that the problem was one person instead of the whole system.

    The people I used to work with (most of whom are still in the same department) were very damaged by their internalization of abuse and their need to insist that it was unavoidable, or even a virtue, to have endured abuse. This is how abusive environments perpetuate themselves.


  7. My entire life in science is one long string of anecdotes about sexism, misogyny, and blissful ignorance about their own privilege on the part of my (white) male colleagues. It started with a high school “career day” when we girls who were interested in computer science were told that the future was bright for key punch operators and it’s been going ever since. Even if you never experience legally actionable discrimination, it’s still a demoralizing environment. The older I get, the more willing I am to call this stuff out but that gets to be wearying as well. I like my work, I do have a few allies among my male colleagues, and I love my students so I keep pushing forward. I suppose it’s equally plausible that I’ve just been institutionalized.

    Patriarchal equilibrium in action, indeed. I wrote about this in a comment here a few weeks ago: my experience is that my contemporaries (and younger) are more likely to express anti-feminist ideas than my older male peers. The young guys have been trained to keep the sexist commentary and actions under wraps in ways older generations have not but their ideas are at best retrograde and and worst hostile to any sort of concern for social justice. It’s not just the lurking “you’ve come a long way, baby (now get over it)” but the aggressive “why should a woman get a job for which a man is qualified?” These guys fancy themselves progressive, worldly scholars.

    A contemporary told me in all seriousness during a job search that he “just doesn’t see sexism, it’s just not a part of his world.” No kidding! Could you stick your head farther up your a**? Same dude the following week expressed concern that an impeccably qualified female candidate for the job would not be able to learn to use some technical equipment in one of our labs.


  8. I am in a humanities field, so my only experience with the sciences is through my husband, who is in STEM/Engineering Education. In a recent round of on-campus interviews, he didn’t meet a single woman (except maybe the admin. asst. who dealt with his travel). And what they kept stressing to him was collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. In getting grants, in publishing, in organizing conferences, etc. I can’t help but wonder if this too works against women. You might land that t/t job, but are the same opportunities presented to you (the only woman in the department) as to your male colleagues? Or do you have to work twice as hard to not remain isolated in your own department? But if you’re not publishing, and you’re not successfully networking on grants, you’re not pulling in the money (hence a lower salary) and you’re not getting tenure.


  9. Truffula: well, I suppose you might say that your colleague has done you a favor by proclaiming that “he ‘just doesn’t see sexism, it’s just not a part of his world.'” Since it’s undeniably a part of THE world, he’s impeached his own intellectual authority.

    There have been some hot threads over at Zuska’s place about mansplaining and further mansplanations. The aggressive ignorance on display by some of her trolls there is pretty jaw-dropping. So, I’m learning that STEM dudes really have a lot to say about women, feminism, and women in science, most of which is complete garbage.

    (Or mere “manventions,” to quote a neologism over there. See also the definition for “reardiculate,” alternate spelling, “reardickulate,” as in “Samantha mentioned a great idea in that meeting, but it was ignored by her colleagues. Jeremy then reardiculated Samantha’s point, and everyone thought it was a brilliant suggestion.” )


  10. ej–great questions. Collaboration seems to be the thing to a much, much greater extent in STEM fields than in the humanities. (We’ve got no labs to staff, and rarely have even one co-author or co-editor, let alone a list of co-authors as long as your arm.)

    The AAUW report is worth looking at carefully. They do a good job of showing how departmental and workplace climate play a huge role in either preserving sex segregation or breaking it down–and desegregation only happens with dedicated, consistent oversight by administrators who make it a priority.


  11. ej: are the same opportunities presented to you?

    There are many ways in which opportunities are different but foremost I’d say is the issue of networking. It’s stating the obvious I’m sure, but networking matters because it’s how we develop the professional relationships that lead to innovative collaborative work and the chance to be in the thick of it when new ideas and methodologies are brewing.

    I participate regularly in by-invitation workshops and scientific working groups and only rarely do women exceed 10% of the people in the room. There are certainly more women qualified for the invite but they don’t bubble up when the dudes organizing these events ponder who they’d like to talk with about this very serious and important subject. It’s quite different when I participate in events arranged by federal agencies. Their culture is different and women tend to be well represented. (That said, a very senior agency dude once asked me who did the math for me.)

    We have in the STEM fields this absurd notion that science is a true meritocracy, that the quality of your ideas and work is all that matters. Many dudes I know are really high on that idea. They look around the club room and see a bunch of bright dudes just like them, feel right at home, and think no farther about who might not be in the room with them.


  12. They look around the club room and see a bunch of bright dudes just like them, feel right at home, and think no farther about who might not be in the room with them.

    Privilege has its privileges!

    I think to some extent the meritocratic myth is widespread in academia in general, but I’m sure you’re right that it’s more pervasive in STEM fields. It’s too potentially damaging and disorienting to admit that luck, or connections, or networking, or sex or racial bias had anything to do with why we got our jobs and others didn’t. It’s much easier (not to say self-serving) to believe that it’s entirely due to merit alone. (As if there’s any “scientific” means by which we could rate and rank 300 job applicants numerically!)


  13. Ahh, the beauty of male privilege! A couple of years ago I witnessed a search in which a male candidate gave a terrible job talk – narrative, lacking any sense of the innovation of the new project or even a simple thesis, speaker unable to answer even the mildest of probing questions, speaker ill-at-ease, incredibly anxious and almost pathologically self-deprecating (ie totally incapable of making a case for himself or for his work). There was justification in favor of hiring said male candidate (need I say he was competing against two female candidates) on the basis that his written work (articles and book ms) were significantly better than the talk. I remember sitting there thinking, “There is NO WAY any of you would be speaking up for a job candidate who completely fell apart in an interview, particularly by being anxious and lacking confidence, if this candidate were a woman. No WAY.” I internally objected to giving the offer on those grounds alone. We all know what happens to professional women who DARE demonstrate any sign of weakness in a professional setting! I personally find wearing the permanent mask of cheerful confident competence every day of my professional life wearing – but it enrages me to see men get away with anything, especially under the auspices of “merit.” Meritocracies only exist for the privileged.


  14. historiann: the meritocratic myth is widespread

    Undoubtedly true but here in the STEM fields we have no training that might help us confront, or even recognize, that mythology. Any academic department might lack the will to confront its own sexism, racism, or ableism but we lack also the language and theoretical scaffolding to help ourselves along.

    Well meaning older colleagues sometimes ask why I think there are so few women amongst the professoriate, despite near parity at the graduate level. When I’m feeling feisty I say that unlike me, most women know when to get the hell out and find a more rewarding career path. It’s half true, there are loads of women in the private sector toward which my discipline leads.


  15. This line of questioning has reminded me of a question that I long wanted to ask. I am on the job market this year in the humanities. I have had several interviews, but as of yet, no job. However, I am hearing about who landed the jobs in my field- all men. I know most of them and they are talented scholars, well deserving of positions. However, I find it hard to believe that in a field that is supposed to be mostly gender equitable, at least better than many others, that ALL the positions (so far 9 known accepted offers) went to men. I don’t think my field is that gender disparate. I’m not sure if individual departments are to blame for hiring qualified men- but something appears very wrong. So my questions is: where do we look or who do we blame for gender discrimination?


  16. Thanks for posting the study; that is some fascinating stuff. I have not much to add. There seems to be a perceived level of competence that is totally disconnected from the real. And a dude is just assumed to be naturally better at the “technical” stuff. I won’t mention any specific instances. It’s so hard to say around here because the population of females in technical roles is so small. I was disheartened to see the average number of women in my industry is supposed to be 6.7%. Around here it is 1.3%, or 3.3% if you count ALL technical women in the department including one who we’re about to hire.

    I do feel like I have to go above and beyond in proving my “hands on knowledge” more than the dudes do. I remember when people first found out I was getting my degree they asked why and asked what I built or worked on in my spare time when I’d say only a few people around here really have hobbies of that nature. But a dude seems to be assumed to be more technical and doesn’t have to work as hard to prove it. Most days it just makes me tired. The women who succeed around here are pretty ones in non-technical roles. The ironic part is how attractive the women here are. I guess when you have mostly dudes doing the hiring they get to choose what they’ll look at all day.


  17. There are some dudes in STEM who are aware of this garbage, and who try to do what they can to not perpetuate it, and also to push back against it. But there is no doubt that it remains a very serious problem.


  18. Even “supportive” STEM faculty can be very obtuse. For example, I’m told every other week by my advisor that women can better grasp the nature of sustainability issues (the topic of my engineering PhD work) because they can have babies and that gives them an intuitive understanding of the need for balancing needs of current generations with those of future generations. He certainly believes engineering in general needs more female faculty and students, but the reasoning behind that support is a constant annoyance.

    I’m also an “exceptional” engineer because I have empathy and communicate well. (Anecdotally, this actually was an advantage that female engineers seem to have in the workplace. The handful of us in the car parts factory where I used to work were often approached on sensitive issues because we were better at approaching things diplomatically and getting maximum buy-in. However, this skill wasn’t exclusive to the women, just more common. It was also somewhat survival-driven, because the alternative was to be known as the oh-so-classic b-word.)

    A lot of male professors I know are similarly positive, and their praise usually boils down to a gut feeling that female candidates for positions are often “strongly motivated” and “likely to work harder and be more competant.”

    Then there was a machine shop guy when I was an undergrad who insisted on “helping” all the women by doing machine work for them — hey, great, except I’d like to learn how to use that lathe myself so I understand it when I’m in the real world and a machinist is discussing problems with me. (Men were, of course, allowed and expected to do the machining themselves.)

    Low expectations from co-workers or subordinates is just a constant background noise of annoyance. It’s tough to learn to just ignore the undercurrent of “we’re tolerating your presence” and continue pushing your ideas because they’re good.

    My engineering department has one female professor (who I believe is still working on tenure) and I have seen zero female job candidates this year out of at least twenty that have given interview talks.

    And then there’s the story I told once before about a (male) physics undergrad who “jokingly” accused a female student of inappropriately influencing the professor to get her good grade in the class. Why he thought that was a bright idea when I, Mrs. Professor, was standing two feet away — who the hell knows.

    I’ve probably got dozens of additional example, but I’m exhausted and have a test to study for. I am going to be wishing everybody in the engineering department a Happy Ada Lovelace day tomorrow, though!


  19. Perpetua:

    My partner saw almost the exact same thing happen during a recent search in his (humanities) department. The male candidate arguably had a more “clubbable” degree (not necessarily better than those of the two female candidates, but from an institution that the two [male] search committee members in the relevant field had close ties to), and good publications, but he gave a disastrous job talk and Q&A, seemed completely unprepared, etc.

    After the two women, who had publishing/teaching accomplishments at least a good as the man’s, had both given much better job talks and over-all interviews, the two male search committee members made an impassioned argument for hiring the dude based on the fact that he seemed more “genuine.” Dude was just underprepared! But that showed he was relaxed enough to be underprepared! Whereas the female frontrunner seemed too. . . together, didn’t she? Like maybe she was hiding something? Probably she didn’t want the job anyway, and was just playing them for leverage with her current institution.

    These men are not old-guard; they’re mid-30s, hipsterish, and kind, and show no signs of being openly or obviously sexist (I know them and like them). But. . . that’s how sexism actually operates, most of the time, isn’t it?


  20. Perpetua and Flavia: I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not. Women job candidates are either overprepared Tracy Flicks who “intimidate” others, or they’re total lightweights or incompetents.

    Erica–it’s good to hear from you. I think the most useful definition of gender bias I’ve seen was a definition that included a phrase like “this can happen even among people of demonstrated good will.” As in, it’s a system, it’s not a personal character flaw. It’s interesting to hear that it’s not just gender essentialism that you’re experiencing, it’s maternal essentialism as well. Are women engineers who don’t have children also assumed to be “naturally” empathic? (I wonder.)

    MsMcD: I wish I had a bright, clear answer for you. Because sex bias is a system, it’s very hard sometimes to locate and name it (because it’s so pervasive.) In your case, I’d ask your advisor for what to do next. (I’m just going to assume that your mentor is a man for the next few paragraphs here–I acknowledge that I could be wrong.) Point out that you know that others are finding work–ask your advisor what his advice is, what he’s heard back from departments you interviewed in, etc. Do not lead with the charge that “all the men are getting jobs and I’m not!” I’m certainly not saying that’s not a significant fact–but unless your advisor is a committed feminist, it might make him defensive or hostile towards you–and that’s ultimately not what you want.

    Depending on how much of a supporter of yours he is, and how open he is to hearing your concerns about sex bias in your interviews, you might introduce the topic as a relevant variable in your job search, and see what he thinks. If he’s open to these ideas, he might be able to work the system differently on your behalf. That is–he might compare the letters he writes for his male students to your letter and re-write his letter of recommendation for you, to make sure that there’s no condescention or gendered language in there. (As in, scrub the references to your love life or personal life; no comments about how “hardworking” you are when he calls his other students “brilliant,” etc.) This is something I think about a lot when I write letters–we all want to make our letter of recommendation sound like they’re written for individuals we know well, but I’m always aware of how the subtleties of language can be used–usually unconsciously–to rate and reward men and women differently. He might also think about how he may need to approach “selling” you differently (more aggressively is what I’m thinking, actually), if he understands the overt and unconscious bias you face on the market.

    If your advisor is not open to this–if he in fact is confident that (as truffula said above) he works in a meritocracy, then you’re going to have to put yourself at his mercy if you want his help. Do what he says–but don’t shy away or back down when you need something from him. You may have to pester him and push him, but do it anyway. If you make yourself his shadow who’s always asking for advice, letters, phone calls–he just might decide that helping you land a job is the best way to get rid of you 😉

    But, the fact is, for all women in academia and all professional women: getting a job is just the first step. I’d like to say that the battles go away after you get a job, or after your book comes out/you win that big grant/your lab is established, or after you get tenure, or after you get promoted to full professor/etc., but I don’t think that’s the case. I can say that getting tenure makes it easier to ignore the annoying low-level sexist noise. But the sexist noise that surrounds you now doesn’t go away. And, I’m happy with my strategy of choosing to see sometimes only what I want to see and engaging only with the people I want to engage with–and that’s easier to do with tenure too.


  21. I think we’ve got to be careful about making broad generalizations about “men are getting hired even when they give bad job talks, are less qualified, etc., even in the humanities” as if this is some sort of a rule. The last 4 hires in my department were women. Of the 12 job candidates who were brought in for those four positions, 9 were men. That’s right, one woman per search, and the one woman was ultimately the chosen one. Now, does this mean that sexism doesn’t exist in hiring? No. Does it mean that I work in some sexism-free nirvana? Certainly not. It’s only to say that it’s important (I think) to realize that the truth of the situation may fall somewhere in between the opposing narratives. What I’d be very interested in seeing would be data about gender, particularly in humanities disciplines since that’s where I’m housed, about hiring decisions over a 5-year period, also with breakdowns about discipline and field of specialization. I think that sort of information would give us a clearer picture of what’s going on, and it would give a clearer picture of how job prospects are trending in terms of gender.

    Again, I’m not AT ALL disputing the stories that people are telling here, nor am I saying we shouldn’t worry about these issues or be angry about them. I just question the data sample (just as I would if I were claiming that there is no problem based only on the anecdotal evidence from my own department and some others of which I’m aware), if we’re trying to make sweeping arguments about academic hiring practices in general.


  22. I don’t think anyone was making claims about academic hiring across the board, Dr. Crazy. But, I’ve witnessed (and I think experienced) what Perpetua and Flavia reported. I was actually told, when informed that I wouldn’t be offered a job by a search chair, that “while I found your personality to be forthright and refreshingly open, others thought you were overconfident and overly ambitious.” I then asked him if he had ever said this to a male job candidate. (And what, I wonder, was the point of telling me this–over E-MAIL no less? I guess to put me in my place. But it was pretty stupid, had I been of a litigious mind.)

    The numbers in history anecdatally as well as those reported by the AHA, don’t looks as good as the record of hiring in your department. For example–a history department in my area (not mine, but close) hired exactly ONE woman in the entire decade of the 2000s, out of a total of 9 people hired into tenure-track jobs. And now that woman is resigning for another job, leaving that department with exactly one tenured or tenure-track woman total. It’s like hiring women was something History departments cared about in the 1990s–they hired a few women, and decided to go back to business as usual in the 2000s and beyond.


  23. H- I think what inspired my comment was this line that you wrote in response to Perpetua and Flavia: “I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not. Women job candidates are either overprepared Tracy Flicks who “intimidate” others, or they’re total lightweights or incompetents.” That sounded, to me, like a claim about hiring across the board, and one that what I’ve witnessed and experienced doesn’t universally support.

    My intention is not at all to dismiss the very real experiences/situations that you and other commenters have described. I think my reaction was more against the rhetoric of the conversation, which reminded me a lot of the rhetoric that I hear a ton in my field that “you just can’t get hired if you’re a straight white male,” which is then always followed up by lots of anecdotes that “prove” this is true. Let’s note for the record, in spite of what I reported about my department in recent years, that this is quite obviously not the case.


  24. Dr. Crazy–you’re right. My comment was more absolute. But, I’ve never seen women job candidates given the benefit of the doubt the way I’ve seen male candidates’ bad job talks or less substantial records explained away. And I’ve certainly never seen a prepared, competent man dismissed for “trying to hard” or “being too ambitious.”

    I have seen women’s performances discussed fairly and without prejudice too. But the bias I’ve witnessed has always been to the detriment of women job candidates.


  25. Just to add in another anecdote of the kind Perpetua and Flavia mentioned: the exact same thing happened in a recent job search at OPU. I did not see the talks, myself, as I was on leave at the time, but I was back on campus by the time we got to the decision to make an offer. Everyone agreed that the male candidate’s talk had been nothing short of disastrous — I had the impression it was one of the worst anyone ever had seen. The female candidate was said to have given a very good, though perhaps not spectacular, talk. The man was farther along in his career and had many more publications, but both had interesting topics for research.

    This decision caused a bitter division in my department, but we ended up with the male candidate.


  26. SKM’s post over at Shakesville is great (and thanks for the pointer to Spence et al., 2009!).

    It is a continual disappointment to me that many of my professional friends are not my allies, as Historiann quotes, “this can happen even among people of demonstrated good will.” I’m grateful for people like CPP who do get it, and for superiors who will acquiesce to the few limits I set even if they don’t get it.

    I try to draw my lines in the sand to protect as many women as possible. (Examples require too many details to describe here.) I understand, as SKM details in her post at Shakesville, that I may be in dangerous territory when I do this and I also recognize that my ability to speak out is a privilege many women on campus do not share.

    Everything certain male colleagues don’t say to me thanks to my academic status, they do say to female clerical staff and students. Everything I can say on the side of equality and liberty thanks to my academic status, female clerical staff and students are reluctant to say. I used to see the differences in treatment as classist but the more I inspect the comments and the disrespect, the more I realize that it is sexism, channeled in what they perceive to be a safe direction. Male classified employees are not typically subject to the same denigration of their intellects, life choices, and so on, that female classified employees experience.


  27. Historiann-“It’s like hiring women was something History departments cared about in the 1990s–they hired a few women, and decided to go back to business as usual in the 2000s and beyond.”

    That seems so true about a lot of things. Racism, sexism, etc. Seems like in the 90’s there was really a societal push to get rid of these things. Now they are all creeping back.

    Dr. Crazy-“I think my reaction was more against the rhetoric of the conversation, which reminded me a lot of the rhetoric that I hear a ton in my field that “you just can’t get hired if you’re a straight white male,” which is then always followed up by lots of anecdotes that “prove” this is true.”

    We must work with the same guys. All the white dudes in my department like to complain about how difficult life is for them because they are not a minority. I agree anecdotes don’t add up to proof. That’s why I’m always hesitant to say I’m being treated around here unfairly because I’m a woman. There’s definite anti-woman bias, and it’s clear I’m not being treated fairly, but whether that draws directly from my gender is unknown. Too small a sample size of women here!

    Historiann’s comment about what the feedback she received while job searching reaffirms one of my pet peeves around here. I certainly don’t talk about gender with the male colleagues who I get along with very well. But whenever I complain about other people getting titled above me with less experience or having to jump through hoops no one else does they usually comment I “expect too much” or can’t be “so demanding.” I wonder if part of the perception comes from attitudes about a woman with ambition.


  28. My experience (~10 t-t job search committees in the biosciences) has been that once candidates have been brought in for job talks, there was not detectable bias that favored men over women. Where I have seen unconscious bias–and done what I could to push back against it–has been in the process of deciding which candidates to invite.


  29. Historiann- thanks for your advice! I’ve been thinking of reworking my cover letter and application approach, and talking to my letter writers makes a lot of sense. I’ll let you know how it works out with my (male- you were right) advisor.


  30. FrauTech: you really have to read chapter 9 on workplace bias in this report. It basically lays out how ambition is punished in women at every turn. (So no wonder so many women “naturally” are repelled by STEM disciplines.) Attacking ambition in women is a two-fer: you can thwart and humiliate one woman whose example then intimidates other women from even trying.


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  32. Dr. Crazy – I think my reaction was more against the rhetoric of the conversation, which reminded me a lot of the rhetoric that I hear a ton in my field that “you just can’t get hired if you’re a straight white male,” which is then always followed up by lots of anecdotes that “prove” this is true.

    FrauTech – We must work with the same guys. All the white dudes in my department like to complain about how difficult life is for them because they are not a minority.

    That sounds like the advice I received from (mostly, but not entirely male) family, friends, fellow students back when I was considering a career in academia. I was warned again and again that because of affirmative action and “political correctness” there wasn’t necessarily much of a future for white males in most of the humanities. I found little evidence that this was true, which was good news from my perspective. (The bad news was that I gradually realized that I just didn’t have the self-discipline and persistence to be a good historian.)


  33. I got my BA in biology and chemistry and then immediately started working in a science lab at my graduating university (we don’t do experiments, we’re more library researchers).

    The sexism is rampant and it drives me more crazy every year. Technically we’re all equal in terms of authority, but I’m considered the most ‘senior’ because I have the most on-the-job experience, and I’m in charge of the database. Yet anytime I disagree with my manager, she goes running to the male employees for THEIR opinion on a project they’re not even a part of. I have to back up everything I say with basically an essay of reasons backed up with citations, while anything the d00ds say is taken at face value. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also one of the youngest employees. I’ve been told by many people in not so many words that I’m intimidating.


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