Study: Women Favored for STEM Tenure Track Jobs


Researchers Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci discovered in their latest study that things aren’t all that bad for women when it comes to STEM faculty positions. Their study confirms there is no sexism in academic science as women tend to be hired for STEM tenure-track positions at a ratio of 2:1.

Their survey involved about 900 faculty members from 371 schools across the country. Through experiments, the candidate evaluators were asked to rate fictional candidates and say who’s more qualified for assistance professorship in the sciences of Biology, Engineering, Psychology and Economics. The results surprised Williams and Ceci:

“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), they said. “It is a propitious time for women launching careers in academic science,” Ceci and Williams noted.

The researchers say that their study findings of a woman being twice as likely to be chosen over an equally qualified man is supported by real-world hiring data.

One exception where women weren’t favored over male candidates was noted by the researchers with male economist evaluators who showed no gender bias either way.

Female raters showed a preference toward divorced mothers over married fathers and male faculty tended to prefer mothers who took extended maternity leave to those who’d choose return to work quickly. The bias against mothers in career positions doesn’t seem to hold any water when it comes to STEM tenure-track positions:

“Women’s perception that an extended maternity leave will cause them to be viewed as less committed to their profession may influence some women to opt out entirely,” the researchers say. “Anti-female bias in academic hiring has ended,” Williams and Ceci argue in a co-authored opinion piece for CNN.

They attribute this shift of gender bias to the changing cultural values, gender awareness raising and the fact that older faculty members are retiring. David Miller, a graduate student researching gender representation in STEM, says context plays an important role when evaluating such findings:

“The fact that there was a preference for female candidates is perhaps not that surprising if you consider many of these faculty hiring members are looking to diversify their group of faculty, he told the US News. “There are other contexts that do show gender bias against females.”

In some cases, women candidates were favored 4:1, Ceci and Williams reveal. As they conclude, the small number of women in STEM positions is not a consequence of gender bias against women, but rather women’s own reluctance to try and enter these fields, primarily due to how they tend to choose a career based on their gender and the fact that mentors and strong female role models are absent from their lives.

A 2012 study did reveal gender bias against women applying for STEM lab positions. Researcher Corinne A. Moss et al., showed identical resumes to candidate raters and only changed the candidate names from male to female, from Jenny to John.

They discovered that the evaluators considered the male candidates more qualified. The evaluators were also unwilling to mentor the female candidates and were considering them for a lower pay salary, Allie Bidwell for the US News writes.