Even scientists have gender stereotypes ... which can hamper the career of women researchers

August 26, 2019

However convinced we may be that science is not just for men, the concept of science remains much more strongly associated with masculinity than with femininity in people's minds. This automatic bias, which had already been identified among the general public, also exists in the minds of most scientists, who are not necessarily aware of it. And, in certain conditions, it may lead to otherwise careful scientific evaluation committees putting women at a disadvantage during promotion rounds involving men and women researchers. These are the findings of a study conducted by behavioural scientists from the Social and cognitive psychology laboratory (CNRS/Université Clermont Auvergne), the Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université), and the University of British Columbia (Canada), with the support of the CNRS Mission for the place of women. The study is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on 26 August 2019.

Women remain underrepresented in scientific research: at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), across all disciplines, the average percentage of female researchers is 35%. And the higher the scientific research position, the more this percentage declines. Several reasons have been cited to explain these disparities: differences in levels of motivation, self-censorship ... but is discrimination also part of the story?

To find out, scientists in social and cognitive psychology studied 40 evaluation committees (1) tasked with evaluating applications for research director (2) positions at the CNRS over a period of two years. This is the first time that a research institution has carried out such a scientific study of its practices in the course of an annual nationwide competition covering the entire scientific spectrum.

This study shows that, from particle physics to the social sciences, most scientists, whether male or female, associate "science" and "masculine" in their semantic memory (the memory of concepts and words). This stereotype is implicit, which is to say that most often it is not detectable at the level of discourse. And it is equivalent to that observed among the general population.

Yet does this implicit stereotype have consequences on the decisions made by evaluation committees? Yes, when committees deny or minimise the existence of bias against women.(3) Here, this is the case for around half of the committees. In these committees, the stronger the implicit stereotypes, the less often women are promoted. In contrast, when committees acknowledge the possibility of bias, implicit stereotypes, however strong they may be, have no influence.

Even if disparities between men and women in science have multiple causes and start at school (as the same authors have shown in other publications), this study indicates for the first time the existence of implicit gender stereotypes among male and female researchers across all disciplines - stereotypes that can harm the careers of women scientists.

Since 2019, at the instigation of the CNRS Mission for the place of women, members of evaluation committees have been invited to participate in training sessions on gender stereotypes and each committee has appointed a reference person in charge of gender equality issues. However, the authors of the study emphasise that, in order to be fully effective, this process must be accompanied by other measures aiming, on the one hand, to enlighten committee members on the exact conditions in which implicit stereotypes influence their decisions, and, on the other, to explain strategies likely to control this influence.
-end-
Notes:

(1) In total, 414 people participated to the study. The committees considered in this study have since come to the end of their commission.

(2) A senior researcher.

(3) They more often attribute gender disparities in science to the choices made by women or gender differences in ability than to the existence of discrimination or the constraints of family life.

CNRS

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.