A recent study found gender biases are prevalent in modern academia; but not the way you think.
The report, published this week in Science, claims “Teaching accreditation exams reveal grading biases favor women in male-dominated disciples in France.” According to the authors of the study, Thomas Breda and Melina Hillion, “women applying for high-level teaching positions in male-dominated fields, such as physics and philosophy,” are favored over men applying for positions in those fields.
Using comparisons of gender-specific tests with non-gender-specific tests for approximately 100,000 study participants from 11 different fields of study over the period 2006-2013, the authors found a bias in favor of women increasing proportionately with the amount of male applicants to the field. Computer science and engineering college departments are more likely to favor female applicants than foreign language and literature departments, because the latter are more often considered female-dominated fields.
In fact, the authors found an overwhelmingly higher gender bias favoring women in male-dominated fields such as quantitative science (10th percentile), compared with a small gender bias favoring men in female-dominated fields such as literature and foreign languages (3rd to 5th percentile). Men are at a significant disadvantage in both male-dominated and female-dominated academic fields due to heavy gender biases against them.
This finding comes to no surprise. When I applied to UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics years ago, the academic counselor handling my application had tried to convince me to apply to a more male-dominated field of study, such as engineering. He told me because of the rigorous engineering program at UCLA combined with the typical female tendency to choose health or humanities-related fields of study over math-oriented fields, the University was receiving a shortage of female applicants. If I applied to UCLA’s engineering program, I would not only be favored significantly over male applicants with similar credentials; I would be offered multiple scholarships simply for being female.
Needless to say, I declined the offer to torture myself with infinite theorems and problem solving, and stuck with a life science major instead. But I did remember feeling bad for my male classmates in college; many of them math and reasoning geniuses, who were at a disadvantage solely because of their gender.
The authors of the Science study describe this grading bias as a reward to women for “surmounting social norms.” The study even attributes the lack of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) female applicants to possible sexist “discrimination” against women, while citing “no compelling evidence.”
Furthermore, the authors respond to their findings with three ridiculous suggestions for policymakers to continue discriminating against men in their fields:
First, active policies aimed at counteracting stereotypes and discrimination should probably focus on students at early ages, before educational choices are made. Second, nonblind evaluation and hiring should be favored over blind-evaluation in order to reduce gender imbalances across academic fields. In particular, policies that impose anonymous curricula vitae in the first stage of academic hiring are likely to have effects opposite to those expected. Third, many women may shy away from male-dominated fields at early ages because they believe that they would suffer from discrimination. Advertising that they have at least as good—or even better—opportunities as their male counterparts at the levels of secondary school teaching and professorial recruiting could encourage talented young women to study in those fields.
Those suggestions are absurd. If women across the board loved quantitative science fields such as engineering or technology so much, we’d be applying to those fields. Also, the suggestion that women are typically staying away from math and technology-related fields because we are too shy or afraid of our male counterparts is somewhat sexist in itself.
But here’s a thought for the authors of this study: perhaps we aren’t applying to those fields because we don’t WANT to. I, for one, would rather swallow a mechanical pacemaker than have to learn how to make one.
Follow Pardes Seleh on Twitter.