"A woman applying for a tenure-track faculty position in STEM
(science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at a U.S. university
is twice as likely to be hired as an equally qualified man, if both
candidates are highly qualified, according to a new study." according to sciencemag.
|A LEGO figurine of astrophysicist Lisa Randall, by artist Maia Weinstock, aimed at highlighting the role of women in science.|
The results run counter to widely held perceptions and suggest that this is a good time for women to be pursuing academic careers. Some observers, however, say that the study—which involved actual faculty members rating hypothetical candidates—may not be relevant to real-world hiring. And they worry the results may leave the incorrect impression that universities have achieved gender parity in STEM fields.
Still, the “important” results will spark “a lot of discussion,” predicts psychologist Virginia Valian of Hunter College in New York City. “It will definitely make people think more thoroughly and more subtly” about the issue.
In previous research, the authors, psychologists Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci of Cornell University, found that men and women generally fare equally well once they are hired into tenure-track positions (although some critics have challenged those findings). For this study, the researchers focused on the hiring phase. It “is a key juncture in understanding the problem of women’s underrepresentation” on STEM faculties, they wrote in an e-mail.
To better understand hiring dynamics, the researchers invented three hypothetical candidates for an assistant professorship: an extremely well-qualified woman, an extremely well-qualified man, and a slightly less qualified man. Then, they wrote a job application summary for each candidate. It included a description of a search committee’s impression of the candidate, quotes from letters of recommendation, and an overall score for the candidate’s job talk and interview. In the last step, they asked 873 tenure-track faculty members from four fields, randomly selected from institutions across the United States, to rank the candidates. The group included an approximately equal number of men and women.