Women preferred 2:1 over men for STEM faculty positions

Readers may recall a common feminist refrain about sexism in STEM fields. The refrain goes something like this: women are being kept out of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields because of sexism. Girls are not encouraged to take STEM courses in school and as a result they fall behind boys in those fields. The few girls who do take an interest in the fields find that businesses will not hire them because of sexism. Businesses prefer to hire men over women.

That turns out not to be true. According to a new study:

Contrary to prevailing assumptions, men and women faculty members from all four fields preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles (single, married, divorced), with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Comparing different lifestyles revealed that women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers and that men preferred mothers who took parental leaves to mothers who did not. Our findings, supported by real-world academic hiring data, suggest advantages for women launching academic science careers.

The authors conducted several experiments that led to the findings:

Williams and Ceci conducted five randomized controlled experiments with 873 tenure-track faculty in all 50 U.S. states to assess gender bias. In three studies, faculty evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical male and female applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships in biology, economics, engineering and psychology. In a fourth experiment, engineering faculty evaluated full CVs instead of narratives, and in a fifth study, faculty evaluated one candidate (either a man or identically qualified woman) without comparison to an opposite-gender candidate. Candidates’ personalities were systematically varied to disguise the hypotheses.

The only evidence of bias the authors discovered was in favor of women; faculty in all four disciplines preferred female applicants to male candidates, with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference.

The graph featured on page four of the study illustrates this finding in all its magnificence:

stem graph

With the exception of economics, both men and women prefer hiring women over men. The authors of the study note:

Our experimental findings do not support omnipresent societal messages regarding the current inhospitability of the STEM professoriate for women at the point of applying for assistant professorships (4–12, 26–29).  Efforts to combat formerly wide- spread sexism in hiring appear to have succeeded. After decades of overt and covert discrimination against women in academic hiring, our results indicate a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere today for female job candidates in STEM disciplines, by faculty of both genders, across natural and social sciences in both math-intensive and non–math-intensive fields, and across fields already well-represented by women (psychology, biology) and those still poorly represented (economics, engineering). Women struggling with the quandary of how to remain in the academy but still have extended leave time with new children, and debating having children in graduate school versus waiting until tenure, may be heartened to learn that female candidates depicted as taking 1-y parental leaves in our study were ranked higher by predominantly male voting faculties than identically qualified mothers who did not take leaves.

The authors appear to take this as a good thing. However, the data can be read another way: there is open discrimination against men in STEM fields. The authors tentatively acknowledge the sexism at play:

Also, it is worth noting that female advantages come at a cost to men, who may be disadvantaged when competing against equally qualified women. Our society has emphasized increasing women’s representation in science, and many faculty members have internalized this goal. The moral implications of women’s hiring advantages are outside the scope of this article, but clearly deserve consideration.

After which they provide no further consideration and go back to singing the praises of the advantage women have while complaining that sexism is still keeping women out of STEM fields.

Simply put: the effort to prevent sexism against women directly led to sexism against men.

How unsurprising. Who would have thought that encouraging a preference of one group over another would lead to bias is favor of that group?

I already understand that feminists support sexism against men (primarily because they do not consider it sexism). I am interested, however, to see how feminists will spin these results into proof that women are discriminated against in STEM fields.

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4 thoughts on “Women preferred 2:1 over men for STEM faculty positions

  1. I’ve often said that even if (and it doesn’t look like the case given this study) women are being hired less frequently than men in STEM fields, that trend would reverse pretty soon anyway – because men are graduating from higher education (and even school) to a lesser extent than women.

    As the study implies, this was bound to happen sooner or later given that fact.

  2. It is bad enough that the authors continue their refrain of women’s disadvantage in STEM even when their own work shows a 2-to-1 bias in women’s favour, but what is truly unforgiveable is that the 2-to-1 hiring bias in favour of women also applies in subjects where women are overwhelmingly dominant – and still the authors either cannot see, or don’t care, about disadvantage to men.

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