Part 2. Subtle Gender Bias and Institutional Barriers

Gender bias and institutional barriers can contribute to disparities between women and men, often in complex ways. Bias both inside and outside research communities may influence women's and men's careers in science and technology. Forms of bias and barriers include:

1. Stereotypes and Gender Roles

Characteristics associated with leadership are viewed as incongruent with women's gender roles.

This means that women may face prejudice in leadership evaluations. Women, for example, who display assertiveness may be perceived as competent, but unpleasant.

Vinkenburg, C., Van Engen, M., Eagly, A., & Johannesen-Schmidt, M. (2011). An Exploration of Stereotypical Beliefs about Leadership Styles: Is Transformational Leadership a Route to Women's Promotion?The Leadership Quarterly, 22 (1), . 10-21.  

Eagly, A.H., & Carli, L.L. (2007). Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 

Scott, K., & Brown, D. (2006). Female First, Leader Second? Gender Bias in the Encoding of Leadership Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 101 (2), 230-242.

Images of scientists are persistently masculine.

Decades of "draw-a-scientist" research indicate that children tend to depict scientists as men, although the number of scientists drawn as women is increasing. Scientists continue to be depicted as Caucasian despite the prominence of Asians in science.

Fralick, B., Kearn, J., Thompson, S., & Lyons, J. (2008). How Middle Schoolers Draw Engineers and Scientists. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18, 60-73.

Finson, K. (2002). Drawing a Scientist: What We Do and Do Not Know After Fifty Years of Drawings. School Science and Mathematics, 102 (7), 335-345.

Rahm, J., & Charbonneau, P. (1997). Probing Stereotypes Through Students’ Drawings of Scientists. American Journal of Physics, 65, 774-778.

Gender bias embedded in notions of scientific excellence affects the evaluation and selection of women in science.

Gender bias has shaped the normative standards of science, including selection procedures for awards and grants, and definitions of scientific competence and quality. Data from the Spanish National Institute of Statistics shows that men associate professors are 2.5 times more likely than women associate professors to be promoted to full professors—even when age, time since Ph.D., field, and measures of academic productibility (such as output of books and peer-reviewed articles) are controlled for.

Unidad de Mujeres y Ciencia (UMYC). (2011). White Paper on the Position of Women in Science in Spain.

Addis, E. (2010). Meta-Analysis of Gender and Science Research Topic Report: Gender and Scientific Excellence. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Brouns, M. (2004). Gender and the Assessment of Scientific Quality. In European Commission, Gender and Excellence in the Making, pp. 147-155. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Mothers are viewed as less competent than women who are not mothers.

In a recent experimental study in which participants evaluated application materials for women job candidates who differed only by parental status, mothers were perceived as less competent and received a lower starting salary than non-mothers. Men were not penalized for, and sometimes benefited from, being a parent. A follow-up study showed that actual employers discriminate against mothers, but not fathers.

Correll, S., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a Job: Is there a Motherhood Penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112 (5), 1297-1338.

Williams, J. (2004). Hitting the Maternal Wall. Academe, 90 (6), 16-21.

Stereotype threat can undermine performance.

The fear of conforming to negative stereotypes about ability in a particular domain impedes performance in that domain. For example, girls and young women who are reminded of negative stereotypes concerning their math abilities tend to underperform on math tests.

Aronson, J., Lustina, M., Good, C., & Keough, K. (1999). When White Men Can't Do Math: Necessary and Sufficient Factors in Stereotype Threat. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35 (1), 29-46.

Nosek, B. et al. (2009). National Differences in Gender—Science Stereotypes Predict National Sex Differences in Science and Math Achievement. Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (26), 10593-10597.

Spencer, S., Steele, C., & Quinn, D. (1999). Stereotype Threat and Women's Math Performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35 (1), 4-28.

Steele, C. (1997). A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance. American Psychologist, 52 (6), 613-629.

However, stereotype threat is moderated by "identity safe environments."

Counter-stereotype messages about leadership reduce women’s vulnerability to negative cues and images that would otherwise undermine their leadership aspirations.

Kane, J., & Mertz, J. (2012). Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance. Notices of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), 59 (1), 10-21.

Davies, P., Spencer, S.J., & Steele, C.M. (2005). Clearing the Air: Identity Safety Moderates the Effects of Stereotype Threat on Women’s Leadership Aspirations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88 (2), 276-287. 

Gendered beliefs about competence may influence career choices.

Boys tend to rate their mathematical competence more highly than do girls of equal measured ability. Self-rated competence, in turn, has a direct effect on selecting quantitative college majors. Gendered patterns of self-selection into certain career pathways, in other words, are at least partly driven by a gendered sense of what one is good at, not simply aptitude or interest.

Correll, S. (2001). Gender and the Career Choice Process: The Role of Biased Self-Assessments. American Journal of Sociology, 106, 1691-1730.

Despite high levels of achievement, women can suffer from an "imposter syndrome" in academic science settings, lacking confidence in their intellectual accomplishments and ability, and a sense of belonging.

Jöstl, G., Bergsmann, E., Lüftenegger, M., Schober, B., & Spiel, C. (2012). When Will They Blow My Cover? The Imposter Phenomenon among Austrian Doctoral Students. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 220 (2), 109-120.

Clance, P., & Imes, S. (1978). The Imposter Phenomenon in High-Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 241-247.

Stereotypical objects in science workspaces discourage interest among groups that do not “fit” the stereotype.

Objects stereotyped as masculine (Star Trek posters, computer parts, comics) can diminish women's sense of "ambient belonging" in a given scientific community, and lead to lower levels of interest in joining this community. Science environments, in short, send powerful signals about who should participate.

Cheryan, S., Meltzoff, A., & Kim, S. (2011). Classrooms Matter: The Design of Virtual Classrooms Influences Gender Disparities in Computer Science Classes. Computers and Education, 57 (2), 1825-1835.

Cheryan, S., Plaut, V.C., Davies, P.G., & Steele, C.M. (2009). Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97 (6), 1045-1060.

2. Hiring, Promotion, and Evaluation

Both women and men are significantly more likely to vote to hire a man applicant versus a woman applicant with the same academic record.

Researchers sent applicant dossiers for a laboratory manager position to 127 professors from biology, chemistry, and physics (the dossiers were identical, only the names differed). Both women and men professors scored "John" higher on competence (4 points out of 7); 3.3 points for "Jennifer." They also offered "John" a higher starting salary.

Moss-Racusin, C., Dovidio, J., Brescoll, V., Graham, M., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (41), 16474-16479.

Steinpreis, R.E., Ritzke, D., & Anders, K.A. (1999). The Impact of Gender on the Review of the Curricula Vitae of Job Applicants and Tenure Candidates: A National Empirical Study. Sex Roles, 41, 509-528.

Usual departmental hiring processes do not always identify exceptional female candidates.

Experience at MIT shows that the involvement of central administration, innovative hiring procedures, collaborations between the provost, deans, department heads, and women faculty committees, and the visible support of the president lead to successful hiring of women faculty. Typical departmental processes, in other words, may not be enough.

Hopkins, N. (2006). Diversification of a University Faculty: Observations on Hiring Women Faculty in the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT. MIT Faculty Newsletter, 18 (4), 16-23. 

Recruiting through networks may disadvantage women.

Candidates for senior positions may be identified through informal networks. This may disadvantage qualified women, who are less likely than men to be part of these networks. Improving the transparency of appointment practices may reduce bias.

Van den Brink, M. (2011). Scouting for Talent: Appointment Practices of Women Professors in Academic Medicine. Social Science and Medicine, 72 (12), 2033-2040.

Performance evaluations in industry can favor characteristics of the dominant group, leaving women scientists (and minority men scientists) at a disadvantage.

Women may be penalized more than men for initiating negotiations for salary and resources.

This can lead women not to negotiate: In one study, 7 percent of women candidates for new jobs negotiated for resources compared to 57 percent of men.

Bowles, H., Babcock, L., & Lai, L. (2007). Social Incentives for Gender Differences in the Propensity to Initiate Negotiations: Sometimes it Does Hurt to Ask. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 103, 84-103.

Gender bias may extend to letters of recommendation.

A study of 886 recommendations in chemistry and biochemistry found that letters for women and men applicants are more similar than different. However, letters written for men tend to have more "standout descriptors," such as "the most gifted," "best qualified," or "rising star," than those written for women. An earlier study showed that letters for men emphasizes research while those for women emphasized teaching.

Schmader, T., Whitehead, J., & Wysocki, V. (2007). A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants. Sex Roles, 57, 509-514.

Trix, F., & Psenka, C. (2003). Exploring the Color of Glass: Letters of Recommendation for Female and Male Medical Faculty. Discourse and Society, 14 (2), 191-220.

Gender bias may extend to student's evaluation of professors.

An experiment in which professional actors delivered lectures to a physics class found that students judged men actors to have a better grasp of the material than women actors—even though the actors delivered identical scripted lectures and none of the actors had a background in physics. The belief that the men actors were more knowledgeable was most prominent among young men students, but existed among young women students as well.

Bug, A. (2010). Swimming Against the Unseen Tide. Physics World Archive, August 2010, 16-17.

3. Partnering and Family Patterns

Gender roles that limit women's mobility interfere with careers in science and engineering.

Although young single women and men have similar degrees of geographic mobility, women who have children may be less mobile than men who have children (depending on the structure of the household). This places women at a disadvantage in the Science and Technology labor workforce, given that many S&T jobs require relocation or frequent travel. 

Caprile, M., & Vallès, N. (2010). Meta-Analysis of Gender and Science Research Topic Report: Science as a Labour Activity. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Women faculty are more likely to be in a dual-career partnership than are men faculty, and are more likely to have an academic partner than are men. Women are also morelikely to partner with someone in their own field, especially in thesciences. This means that the challenge of negotiating two academiccareers hits women especially hard.

At leading research universities, 40 percent of full-time women faculty at leading research universities have an academic partner, versus 34 percent of full-time men faculty. Among scientists, 83 percent of women (and 54 percent of men) in an academic partnership are partnered with another scientist. Both married and domestic partners in dual-career academic relationships may have more limited opportunities for career advancement given existing hiring and promotion practices.

Schiebinger, L., Davies Henderson, A., & Gilmartin, S. (2008). Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know. Stanford University: Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. 

Funk, J., Gramespacher, E., & Rothäusler, I. (Eds.) (2010). Dual Career Couples in Theorie und Praxis. Cologne: Verlag Barbara Budrich.

Wolf-Wendel, L., Twombly, S.B., & Rice, S. (2003). The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Policies in Higher Education. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Women who achieve tenure are less likely to have children than are men who achieve tenure, across all disciplines.

Among women and men who have children early in their academic careers, men are far more successful at earning tenure than are women. Single women faculty in ladder rank positions within three years of earning their doctorates are less likely to marry and, if they do marry, more likely to divorce than are their male peers and women in non-tenure track or part-time positions. Finally, family characteristics may be most influential at the start of women's careers (at the point of attaining a tenure track position).

Mason, M., & Wolfinger, N., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Mason, M., & Goulden, M. (2004). Do Babies Matter (Part II)? Closing the Baby Gap. Academe, 90 (6), 3-7.

Mason, M., & Goulden, M. (2004). Marriage and Baby Blues: Redefining Gender Equity in the Academy. The Annals of the American Academy, 596, 86-103. 

Mason, M., & Goulden, M. (2002). Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women. Academe, 88 (6), 21-27.

Men may suffer a "daddy penalty."

While men are typically not penalized for, and sometimes benefit from, being fathers, men who actively engage in child care may suffer a “daddy penalty.” Those, for example, who take advantage of flex-time policies can suffer wage and promotion penalties.

PEW Research Center, Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They balance Work and Family (March, 2013).

Williams, J., Blair-Loy, M., & Berdahl, J. (2013). Cultural Schemas, Social Class, and the Flexibility Stigma. Journal of Social Issues, 69 (2), 209-234.

Men and women faculty typically devote more hours per week to workthan do men and women in most other occupations. The long faculty workweek is true for professors at all ranks.

The time demands on faculty may be especially discouraging to women who tend to take more responsibility than do men for family obligations.

Jacobs, J. (2004). The Faculty Time Divide. Sociological Forum, 19, 3-27.

Women scientists at all ranks perform more housework than do men scientists.

Partnered women scientists at top U.S. research institutions do twice as much housework as partnered men scientists. In efforts to maintain highly productive careers, employers are increasingly offering benefits to support housework.

Schiebinger, L., & Gilmartin, S. (2010). Housework is an Academic Issue. Academe, 96, 39-44.

Gunter, R., & Stambach, A. (2003). As a Balancing Act and As A Game: How Women and Men Science Faculty Experience the Promotion Process. Gender Issues, 21 (1), 24-42.

4. Harassment

Gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment still exist in academic sciences.

Carr, P., Ash, A., Friedman, R., Szalacha, L., Barnett, R., Palepu, A., & Moskowitz, M. (2000). Faculty Perceptions of Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in Academic Medicine. Annals of Internal Medicine, 132, 889-896.