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The Surprising Reason More Women May Want to Consider STEM Jobs

The Surprising Reason More Women May Want to Consider STEM Jobs

By Caitlin Moscatello

The tide, it seems, is turning. According to a new study by the directors of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, women are actually twice as likely to be chosen for tenure-track position in university science departments than their evenly matched male colleagues. This finding differs greatly than that of a 2006 report, which stated that "an impressive body of controlled experimental studies and examination of decision-making processes in real life show that, on the average, people are less likely to hire a woman than a man with identical qualifications."

Researchers Wendy M. Williams, a psychologist and professor of human development at Cornell, and Stephen J. Ceci, a professor of developmental psychology at the same university, wrote on that "a walk through the science departments of any college or university could convince us that the scarcity of female faculty (20% or less) in fields like engineering, computer science, physics, economics, and mathematics must reflect sexism in hiring." But they say available data doesn't back up this assumption. In fact, the authors assert that national hire audits show that women in science are more likely to be interviewed and hired for STEM jobs than men. The real discrepancy, they say, is that women are less likely to apply for available positions.

Williams and Ceci decided to evaluate whether or not STEM feels are sexist toward women by surveying almost 900 faculty members from 371 U.S. schools in a series of experiments. To keep the experiment balanced, the researchers created fictional profiles of male and female candidates, keeping them equally qualified professionally, and with similar lifestyles (single, married, married with children, etc.). The only different was their sex. Male and female evaluators, all faculty members at various colleges and universities across the country, were then asked to rank the candidates and determine who would be the best person to hire for an assistant professorship in various STEM fields.

"What we found shocked us," the researchers wrote on "Women had an overall 2-to-1 advantage in being ranked first for the job in all fields studied. This preference for women was expressed equally by male and female faculty members, with the single exception of male economists, who were gender neutral in their preferences." There were other surprising findings that came out of the research, including that when evaluating candidates, "women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers" and "men preferred mothers who took leaves to mothers who did not."

The study is not without its critics. Joan Williams, the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of Law, told Inside Higher Ed that the researchers' conclusion that STEM fields are no longer sexist is a flawed one. According to Joan Williams' own research, all of the female scientists she has surveyed say they have been discriminated against due to their gender. 

"There are many studies that focus only on hiring, and that's a totally legitimate thing to do," she said. "The problem is the way they've interpreted their conclusion, which is far too broad, because this effect in hiring isn't really the problem with gender bias in STEM."

What's your take? Do you think STEM fields are more welcoming of women? Are you surprised by the study's findings that women are favored for tenure-track STEM positions? Share in the comments.


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