Tag Archives: racism

2013: women, science, gender, and sex

2013 seems to have been quite the year for discussions about women, gender, and sex (scandals) in the world of science. In Canada, we had the Council of Canadian Academies assessment: Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, (my commentary was in these February 22, 2013 postings titled: Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2) and Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2, respectively). Elsewhere, there was a special issue (March 7, 2013) of Nature magazine which had this to say on the issue’s home page,

Women in Science

Science remains institutionally sexist. Despite some progress, women scientists are still paid less, promoted less frequently, win fewer grants and are more likely to leave research than similarly qualified men. This special issue of Nature takes a hard look at the gender gap — from bench to boardroom — and at what is being done to close it.

Shaunacy Ferro in a March 10, 2013 posting on the Popular Science website added to the discussion (Note: A link has been removed)

… Why, even as the demand for STEM education rises, do only a fifth of the physics Ph.Ds awarded in the U.S. go to women, as a new New York Times magazine story asks?

Written by Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first women to graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1978, this story is a deeply personal one. Though she graduated with honors after having written a thesis that, years later, her advisor would call “exceptional,” no one–not even that same advisor–encouraged her to go on to a post-graduate career in science.

At that point, it seemed like more than the usual number of articles relative to most years but not enough to excite comment, that is, until the sexual harassment scandals of October 2013.  The best timeline I’ve seen for these scandals was written by the folks at ‘talk science to me’ in an Oct. 21, 2013 posting by Amanda. I offered an abbreviated version along with a more extensive commentary in my Oct. 18, 2013 posting and there was this Oct. 22, 2013 posting by Connie St. Louis for the Guardian science blogs which includes an earlier Twitter altercation in the UK science communication community along with the .scandals in North America. Jobs were lost and many people were deeply distressed by the discovery that one of the main proponents of science and social media, Bora Zivkovic  (Scientific American editor responsible for that magazine’s blog network, founder of Science Online, and tireless of promoter of many, many science writers and communicators) had stumbled badly by committing acts  construed as sexual harassment by several women.

In the end, the scandals provoked a lot of discussion about sexism, sexual harassment, and gender bias in the sciences but whether anything will change remains to be seen. While these discussions have taken on a familiar pattern of decrying male sexism; it should be noted that women, too, can be just as sexist as any man. In my Sept. 24, 2012 posting about some research into women, science, and remuneration, I noted this,

Nancy Owano’s Sept. 21, 2012 phy.org article on a study about gender bias (early publication Sept. 17, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) describes a situation that can be summed up with this saying ‘we women eat our own’.

The Yale University researchers developed applications for a supposed position in a science faculty and had faculty members assess the applicants’ paper submissions.  From Owano’s article,

Applications were all identical except for the male names and female names. Even though the male and female name applications were identical in competencies, the female student was less likely to be hired, being viewed as less competent and desirable as a new-hire.

Results further showed the faculty members chose higher starting salaries and more career mentoring for applicants with male names.

Interestingly, it made no difference on hiring decisions as to whether the faculty member was male or female. Bias was just as likely to occur at the hands of a female as well as male faculty member.

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

 

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

As for the two women involved in the sex scandals, both as whistle blowers, The Urban Scientist, DN Lee continues to write on her blog on the Scientific American (SA) website (her incident involved a posting she wrote about a sexist and racist incident with an editor from Biology Online [who subsequently lost their job] that was removed by the SA editors and, eventually, reinstated) while Monica Byrne continues to write on her personal blog although I don’t know if she has done any science writing since she blew the whistle on Bora. You may want to read Byrne’s account of events here

I think we (men and women) are obliged to take good look at sexism around us and within us and if you still have any doubts about the prevalence of sexism and gender bias against women, take a look at Sydney Brownstone’s Oct. 22, 2013 article for Fast Company,

These ads for U.N. Women show what happens if you type things like “women need to” into Google. The autocomplete function will suggest ways to fill in the blank based on common search terms such as “know their place” and “shut up.”

A quick, unscientific study of men-based searches comes up with very different Autocomplete suggestions. Type in “men need to,” and you’ll get “feel needed,” “grow up,” or “ejaculate.” Type in “men shouldn’t,” and you might get, “wear flip flops.”

Those searches were made in March 2013.