Study: Female Applicants Face Gender Hurdle in STEM Fields

A Yale University study, available online at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that in the field of academia, female scientists have a tougher time succeeding than their male colleagues.

In the study abstract, the authors said that when faculty members were asked to evaluate identical resumes from female and male applicants, the males weren’t just rated higher — they were also more likely to be hired, more apt to draw faculty mentors and were thought to deserve higher starting salaries than their female peers.

Another alarming finding was that there appeared to be no difference in how the sexes were treated between male and female evaluators. The authors blamed the outcome on the “preexisting subtle bias against women” in the scientific fields and made suggestions for several steps universities might take in order to minimize its impact in hiring decisions.

The methodology used by Yale researchers included performing the experiment double-blind with 127 participants selected from science faculty at some of the top research-focused universities in the country.

Science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.

Although the findings have been called shocking, Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post rounded up a few facts about women in STEM fields that shouldn’t have made the Yale results in any way surprising.

According to the data from several sources, including U.S. Department of Commerce and the American Association for Women in Science, women are woefully underrepresented in science and technology professions. Although they make up nearly half of the active labor force, only a quarter of those employed in STEM professions are women.

* Women receive fewer scholarly awards than would be expected based on the proportion of PhDs and full professors in scientific fields.

* Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.

* Fifty seven percent of female STEM majors study physical and life sciences, while fewer than one-third (31 percent) of men choose these fields.

* Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.