Women are no longer at a disadvantage when applying for tenure-track positions in university science departments, according to a new study from Cornell University psychologists. If anything, the bias has flipped: Female candidates are now twice as likely to be chosen as equally qualified men, according to the study, “National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track,” published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

In a nationwide study from the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, professors Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci—co-directors of the institute—found tenure-track faculty in engineering, economics, biology and psychology generally favored hiring female candidates rather than otherwise identical male candidates by a 2-to-1 margin. A series of five experiments were conducted on 873 faculty members at 371 colleges and universities from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

 

In the experiments, evaluators were presented with profiles of fictional job candidates and asked to rank them according to who was most qualified for an assistant professorship in biology, engineering, economics and psychology, explains a Washington Post article. In nearly every case, the female candidates were more likely to be ranked higher, regardless of their lifestyle, area of expertise and the evaluators’ field of research. The one exception was with male economists, who showed no gender bias one way or the other.

 

The bias toward women “was totally unexpected,” Williams says in a Reuters story. “We were shocked,” she says.

 

The conclusion should come as good news for proponents of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), who have long argued that hiring bias is holding female scientists back. However, since the report also contradicts other prominent studies of the issue, some researchers remain skeptical.

 

Joan C. Williams (no relation to the Cornell researcher), 1066 Foundation Chair and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law, says in an Inside Higher Ed article that the Cornell study’s methodology was sound but that it is “seriously flawed” in its conclusion that STEM is now a welcoming place for women. She says instead, hiring has never really been the main source of discrimination against women, and any study that ignores climate and retention issues beyond the hiring phase doesn't paint an accurate picture of the field.

 

On-going research by Joan Williams, who also is co-principal investigator for Tools for Change in STEM—a long-term research project on women in the sciences—suggests that 100 percent of women scientists (of 60 surveyed) have faced gender bias once they’re on the job, the Inside Higher Ed article reports.

 

Those statements remind me of the findings of another study, “Athena 2.0 Factor: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering & Technology,” which was released last year by research think tank Center for Talent Innovation (CTI). That study found that 72 percent of women in the U.S. working in science, engineering and technology fields perceive gender bias in performance evaluations. What’s more, women working in these fields are 45 percent more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within a year, according to the study’s findings.

 

“Their intent to leave these companies clearly isn't because these women are afraid of hard work,” says Laura Sherbin, director of research for CTI. “But they feel stalled in their careers, and this feeling of being stalled turns into a massive lack of hope.”

 

What I’d like to know is if you think these problems are also found in the supply chain. Do you think gender bias takes place during performance evaluations? In general, are women in supply chain jobs held to different expectations than men?