The emancipation of female students seems to go well. Every year more and more women enter universities and manage to get their degree. But is it because they are finally seen as equal to their male counterparts? Or because they have learned to perform disproportionately well, in spite of gender discrimination?
A double-blind study of Yale University suggests the last option. Researchers found there still is a substantial gap between professors’ judgment of male and female students. In an application for a laboratory manager position, women, compared to men, were rated as significantly less competent and were offered a lower salary and less career mentoring.
127 professors of biology, chemistry and physics in public and private universities gave their feedback to the exact same application materials, half of these signed with John, the others with Jennifer. The professors thought of the Jennifers as less competent and hirable, indicated they would spend significantly less time mentoring their career and selected a mean starterssalary of 26,5 thousand dollars compared to the 30,2 thousand for the Johns.
It didn’t make a difference if the professor was a man or a woman, young or old. Neither did the scientific field of expertise or their tenure status have any influence on their ratings. What did appear to matter was their preexisting subtle bias against women, measured with the Modern Sexism Scale. A preexisting bias affected the professors judgment of female students, whereas the male students rating was not correlated with this bias.
So the glass ceiling is still there. Even professors, expected to be skilled in judging data objectively, have difficulties ignoring the gender of their students. It’s not a very hopeful message to all the women with academic ambitions, but at the same time it’s a pat on the back: until now they probably performed even better than they were given credits for.
Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, & Handelsman J (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 22988126