Whenever the subject of women in science comes up, there are people fiercely committed to the idea that sexism does not exist. They will point to everything and anything else to explain differences while becoming angry and condescending if you even suggest that discrimination could be a factor. But these people are wrong. This data shows they are wrong. And if you encounter them, you can now use this study to inform them they’re wrong. You can say that a study found that absolutely all other factors held equal, females are discriminated against in science. Sexism exists. It’s real. Certainly, you cannot and should not argue it’s everything. But no longer can you argue it’s nothing.
We are not talking about equality of outcomes here; this result shows bias thwarts equality of opportunity.
Here are three additional reasons why this study is such a big deal.
1) Both male and female scientists were equally guilty of committing the gender bias. Yes – women can behave in ways that are sexist, too. Women need to examine their attitudes and actions toward women just as much as men do. What this suggests is that the biases likely did not arise from overt misogyny but were rather a manifestation of subtler prejudices internalized from societal stereotypes. As the authors put it,
“If faculty express gender biases, we are not suggesting that these biases are intentional or stem from a conscious desire to impede the progress of women in science. Past studies indicate that people’s behavior is shaped by implicit or unintended biases, stemming from repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent…”
2) When scientists judged the female applicants more harshly, they did not use sexist reasoning to do so. Instead, they drew upon ostensibly sound reasons to justify why they would not want to hire her: she is not competent enough. Sexism is an ugly word, so many of us are only comfortable identifying it when explicitly misogynistic language or behavior is exhibited. But this shows that you do not need to use anti-women language or even harbor conscious anti-women beliefs to behave in ways that are effectively anti-women.
Practically, this fact makes it all the more easy for women to internalize unfair criticisms as valid. If your work is rejected for an obviously bad reason, such as “it’s because you’re a woman,” you can simply dismiss the one who rejected you as biased and therefore not worth taking seriously. But if someone tells you that you are less competent, it’s easy to accept as true. And why shouldn’t you? Who wants to go through life constantly trying to sort through which critiques from superiors are based on the content of your work, and which are unduly influenced by the incidental characteristics of who you happen to be? Unfortunately, too, many women are not attuned to subtle gender biases. Making those calls is bound to be a complex and imperfect endeavor. But not recognizing it when it’s happening means accepting: “I am not competent.” It means believing: “I do not deserve this job.”
3) As troubling as these results are, they are also critical toward solutions. That biases against women are often subconscious means people need extra prodding to realize and combat them. I’m willing to bet that many in the study, just like people who take Implicit Association Tests, would be upset to learn they subconsciously discriminate against women, and they would want to fix it. Implicit biases cannot be overcome until they are realized, and this study accomplishes that key first step: awareness.
Via Marion Chapsal