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Unconscious Bias

On this page, the CSWA has compiled resources on unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias. More concrete obstacles having been overcome, this issue may be one of the most important obstacles to women's professional success today. Each link is accompanied by a short quote, chosen by us, or a short summary.

This page also covers the related topics of impostor syndrome, stereotype threat, and gender imbalance in awards ("Matilda effect").

The webmaster would welcome suggestions of additional resources.

Project Implicit®

This page hosts both a demonstration and a research project. Participants can take the Implicit Association Test to measure their own unconscious biases about women in science and other topics.

CSWA Special Session on Addressing Unconscious Bias

Four informative presentations by CSWA members

Plenary lecture by Abigail Stewart (U. Mich.), "Addressing Unconscious Bias: Steps toward an Inclusive Scientific Culture" (PowerPoint, 680 KB)

At the invitation of the CSWA, Prof. Stewart gave an excellent plenary lecture at the January 2011 AAS meeting in Seattle, WA.

Key talk by Prof. Stewart at the Women in Astronomy III conference, "Addressing Unconscious Bias"

In Women in Astronomy and Space Science: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce, Proceedings from the conference held at The Inn and Conference Center University of Maryland University College, October 21—23, 2009, edited by Anne L. Kinney, Diana Khachadourian, Pamela S. Millar and Colleen N. Hartman, p. 51

"Introduction to Unconscious Bias," by Joan T. Schmelz and Patricia Knezek, in our newsletter STATUS, July 2011

"We all have biases, and we are (for the most part) unaware of them. In general, men and women BOTH unconsciously devalue the contributions of women. This can have a detrimental effect on grant proposals, job applications, performance reviews, and ultimately opportunities for advancement."

Gender Bias Learning Project, A Project of the Center for WorkLife Law, UC Hastings College of the Law

'Gender bias in academia is alive and well. Identifying and understanding the distinct patterns of gender bias is the first step towards ensuring that bias does not derail your career. The Center for WorkLife Law, with support from a NSF ADVANCE leadership grant, has developed this on-line gender bias training that teaches you to identify the four basic patterns of gender bias:
  • Prove it Again!
  • The Double Bind
  • The Maternal Wall
  • Gender Wars'

Included are training and advice videos and an on-line game, Gender Bias Bingo, in which users can enter their own stories illustrating each of these four categories of bias, among others. An article in the Summer 2011 issue of AWIS Magazine gives examples of those stories.

"Unconscious Bias and the Impact on Women entering Science," a blog post based on a talk by Athene Donald.

An excellent overview of the topic by an award-winning scientist.

D. Watson, A. C. Andersen, and J. Hjorth, "The Mysterious Disappearance of Women: The Origin of the Leaking Pipe—Cumulative Bias Gender Equity in the First EURYI Scheme"

In Women in Astronomy and Space Science: Meeting the Challenges of an Increasingly Diverse Workforce, Proceedings from the conference held at The Inn and Conference Center University of Maryland University College, October 21—23, 2009, edited by Anne L. Kinney, Diana Khachadourian, Pamela S. Millar and Colleen N. Hartman, p. 237

' ... suggests that the leaking-pipe is independent of time, i.e. time-related factors are not the driving cause, but that the reason behind the leaking-pipe may instead be very straightforward: a series of low-level (~10–20%) biased thresholds applied at each career stage.'

"Cracking the Male Code of Office Behavior," by Shaunti Feldhahn, from The New York Times. Published: February 5, 2011

'For the last nine years, I've been engaged in some of the most fascinating work a woman can do: talking to and surveying thousands of men to investigate what they think - and then writing books about it.

'Women may find it easier to break the glass ceiling, she says, if they can "shape the way men perceive them." I enter into conversations with unsuspecting men sitting next to me on airplanes, on the subway and in coffee shops and give them a chance to share their innermost thoughts anonymously. My goal is to dig out the inner, unspoken perceptions that affect women every day in the workplace and at home.'

"Are men better at selling themselves?" by Sophia Dembling, from gradPSYCH magazine, published by the American Psychological Association

'Women find it harder to trumpet their accomplishments, research suggests. Here's advice on how to be more comfortable promoting yourself, no matter what your gender.'

Research results on writing letters of recommendation from physorg.com

'A recommendation letter could be the chute in a woman's career ladder, according to ongoing research at Rice University. The comprehensive study shows that qualities mentioned in recommendation letters for women differ sharply from those for men, and those differences may be costing women jobs and promotions in academia and medicine.'

You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Deborah Tanner, Ph.D.

From the author's preface:

' ... In this book I listen to the voices of women and men. I make sense of seemingly senseless misunderstandings that haunt our relationships, and show that a man and a woman can interpret the same conversation differently, even when there is no apparent misunderstanding. I explain why sincere attempts to communicate are so often confounded, and how we can prevent or relieve some of the frustration. ...

'The sociolinguistic approach I take in this book shows that many frictions arise because boys and girls grow up in what are essentially different cultures, so talk between women and men is cross-cutural communication. ...'

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

The Institute supports research on the potrayal of women and girls in films and television. For example, "Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males. ... From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce."

See research reports listed on their Research page.

Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers, by Virginia Valian (Hunter College)

Tutorials 'can be downloaded on this webpage and played with voice-over narration. Transcripts and questionnaires are also available.'

"Men and Women: No Big Difference," from the American Psychological Association

'Studies show that one's sex has little or no bearing on personality, cognition and leadership. ... Mars-Venus sex differences appear to be as mythical as the Man in the Moon. A 2005 analysis of 46 meta-analyses that were conducted during the last two decades of the 20th century underscores that men and women are basically alike in terms of personality, cognitive ability and leadership."

Stemming The Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering

This report is among several on women in science and techology that are available from the Department of Energy.

From the Executive Summary: 'Women comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% of practicing engineers are women, despite decades of academic, federal, and employer interventions to address this gender gap. Project on Women Engineers' Retention (POWER) was designed to understand factors related to women engineers’ career decisions. Over 3,700 women who had graduated with an engineering degree responded to our survey and indicated that the workplace climate was a strong factor in their decisions to not enter engineering after college or to leave the profession of engineering. Workplace climate also helped to explain current engineers’ satisfaction and intention to stay in engineering.'

"Nepotism and sexism in peer-review," by Christine Wennerås and Agnes Wold, in Nature, vol. 387, p. 341, 22 May 1997

This is the oft-cited report on the peer evaluation process for postdoctoral fellowships offered by the Swedish Medical Research Council, which found that women had to have significantly higher research productivity, according to objective measures, in order to be selected.

'Our study strongly suggests that peer reviewers cannot judge scientific merit independent of gender. The peer reviewers overestimated male achievements and/or underestimated female performance, as shown by multiple-regression analysis of the relation between defined parameters of scientific productivity and competence scores.'

"A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants," by Toni Schmader, Jessica Whitehead, and Vicki H. Wysocki, NIH Public Access Author Manuscript, published in Sex Roles, 2007; 57(7-8): 509–514.

From the abstract: 'Results revealed more similarities than differences in letters written for male and female candidates. However, recommenders used significantly more standout adjectives to describe male as compared to female candidates. Letters containing more standout words also included more ability words and fewer grindstone words. Research is needed to explore how differences in language use affect perceivers’ evaluations of female candidates.'

"Gender and Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Agentic and Communal Differences," by Juan M. Madera, Michelle R. Hebl, and Randi C. Martin, in Journal of Applied Psychology, 2009, Vol. 94, No. 6, 1591–1599

'our results confirmed ... that female applicants were more likely to be described with communal terms (e.g., affectionate, warm kind, and nurturing) than male applicants. Letters of recommendation for female applicants also mentioned more social–communal terms, such as student(s), child, relative, and mother. In contrast, male applicants were more likely to be described in agentic terms (e.g., ambitious, dominant, and self-confident) than were female applicants. ... It is important to note that these differences were obtained even though we included objective measures of performance from applicants’ curriculum vitae.'

"High school math teachers may not make the grade when it comes to gender bias," from PhysOrg.com, March 22, 2012

This news article, based on information provided by Sociologists for Women in Society, summarizes a study in which high-school teachers were asked to rank their students' math abilities. The study found that, while teachers ranked minority students lower than white students, those rankings were consistent with the students' grades and test scores. When white females were compared with white males, however, the females were ranked lower even when their grades and test scores were the same.

The study's authors, Melissa Humphries and Catherine Riegle-Crumb, explain this difference by proposing that teachers are aware of the pitfalls of racial bias but that 'gender bias is so socially ingrained teachers may find it "hard to grasp and, therefore, hard to resist."'

The paper, "Exploring Bias in Math Teachers' Perception of Students' Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity," will appear in the April issue of Gender & Society.

"8 ways to help end workplace prejudice," by Leigh Steere on April 19th, 2012, from SmartBlogs on Leadership

This blog is about racism in the workplace, but it easily generalizes to gender bias in academia. From the blog:

'Discomfort with a co-worker often signals bias

'Next time you find yourself cringing in a colleague’s presence, fill in one or more of these blanks.

  • I do not feel comfortable with this person because …
  • I am skeptical about this worker’s ability to do a good job because …

...

'Are your answers based on work performance you have observed? Or are you simply uncomfortable with a nonwork-related trait the co-worker exhibits? Wardrobe. A pierced tongue. Sexual orientation. Age. Mannerisms. ...'

"You can't get ahead on merit alone," by Leah Eichler, from The Globe and Mail. Published Friday, June 1, 2012, then updated

'Unconscious prejudices remain so powerful that one study found people apply gender stereotypes even to a computer, judging those with a female voice to be less competent in explaining technological issues than a male one ...

' ... men in the merit-based organization – which stressed fairness in how it promotes and compensates its employees – received larger bonuses than women, despite identical job performance evaluations. This bias did not surface when the experiment was repeated in a company that did not emphasize merit and fairness in its core values.'

And much more of interest ...

"'I'm Not Your Wife!' A New Study Points to a Hidden Form of Sexism," by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, in The Atlantic, June 5, 2012

'The studies showed that personal views and the domestic architecture of male leaders' private lives helped shape women's professional opportunities. This held true in both surveys and lab experiments, including one that tested whether candidates with identical backgrounds, but different names -- Drew versus Diane -- should receive a spot in a sought-after, company-sponsored MBA program. According to the research, men in traditional marriages gave Diane "significantly poor evaluations" compared to Drew. It seems that husbands with wives working at home imprinted that ideal onto women in the office.

'( ... For the record, the researchers label "modern marriages" those where wives are employed full time and "traditional marriages" those in which wives are not employed.)'

And much more of interest ...

"Too young, too old, but never the right age," by Leah Eichler, from The Globe & Mail, July 6, 2012

'Prof. Brewis, along with Kat Riach, a senior lecturer in management at Essex Business School at the University of Essex, conducted research about employees at a hedge fund in London. They found that women at the firm were never the "right age" and faced obstacles from the moment they began their careers through to after having children.

'Working for a hedge fund, with its high salaries and the potential for rapid career progression, is a very "adult job," Prof. Brewis said. When women joined the firm, the research suggested, they were perceived as "too young" for promotion, while men at the firm reported no such bias.

'After having children, the women reported entering a "post-career" stage even if they had been considered "less-than-adult" before having children. The same did not apply to men. This resulted in women being considered "both too young and too old pretty much at the same time," Prof. Brewis said.'

Press release about the research

"The Problem With Men Explaining Things," by Rebecca Solnit

'Countless women are being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever.'

"Beyond Starship Enterprise: Racism, Sexism & The Science Pipeline," by Sikivu Hutchinson, from Black Skeptics blog

[For me, the most interesting part of the article, about midway through:]

' ... black girls, as opposed to white girls, are actually more inclined to stay engaged with science throughout their K-12 careers. In elementary and middle school girls tend to outperform males in math and science. However the "trend tends to reverse itself in the white but not the African American communities as the young people enter high school." Indeed, "African American girls have been found…to be in more advanced math classes, to get better science grades, and to participate more in science than their male counterparts." But Hanson emphasizes that greater participation amongst African American girls does not necessarily translate into high achievement. Academic outcomes for students of color still lag behind their white counterparts. Indeed, the presumption of underachievement that dogs even the "best and brightest" science students underscores the depth of educational apartheid in the U.S.'

"Women in science, you have nothing to fear but your own subconscious," by Jenny Rohn, From Occam's Corner, hosted by The Guardian, Tuesday 25 September, 2012

'... So it was with great interest that I heard about a new study from Moss-Racusin and colleagues, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [open access article]. The experiment was a variation on the classic name-swapping CV studies (see Valian's book for more on these) which have been used to show that, given an identical bogus CV, people are more likely to prefer candidates if a male name is printed on the top. This randomised, double-blind experiment was performed on 127 scientific faculty from "research-intensive universities" in the US, who agreed to evaluate a potential student-cum-laboratory manager.

'The results were eyebrow-raising – though perhaps, given the many studies performed before, not terribly surprising:

"Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent."

'The authors go on to suggest that subconscious bias might be overcome, and female participation in science increased, by pre-emptively coaching people on recruitment panels to be aware of their inbuilt biases.'

"Why Don't Women Raise Their Hands More?" by Rachel Dempsey, from The Huffington Post Blog: Women, September 17, 2012

'Studies have shown that men are more likely than women to project confidence when they're uncertain, and that women are particularly hesitant when they're being asked a question regarding a traditionally male domain. ...

'At the New Girls' Network, we've named this the Prove-it-Again! pattern of gender bias. While men are more likely to be judged on their potential in professional settings, women are more likely to be judged by their achievements. In a related pattern, men's mistakes are overlooked and soon forgotten while women's mistakes are noticed and remembered. It's actually riskier for a woman to project confidence than for a man -- her credentials and claims to competence are more precarious, and her mistakes are more likely to be interpreted as a sign of fundamental failing.'

"Gender Inequality in Deliberative Participation," by Christopher F. Karpowitz, Tali Mendelberg, and Lee Shaker, in American Political Science Review, 106, pp. 533-547, August 2012 [open access article]

'We investigate whether the critics are correct in arguing that women speak less than men during deliberation and thus have less perceived influence. Moreover, we ask whether increasing descriptive representation – that is, the proportion of women in the group - raises women's deliberative voice (speech participation) and authority (perceived influence). We provide the first rigorous test of these claims using a large dataset of deliberating groups randomly assigned to treatments, and linking individuals' speech with pre- and post-deliberation preferences and attitudes. Moreover, we develop and find support for our own hypothesis: Numbers can remedy inequality, but do so in interaction with the group's decision rule. Rules determine whether women benefit from larger numbers and can help women even when they are few. Inequality disappears with unanimous rule and few women, or majority rule and many women.'

"Gender Segregation in Elite Academic Science," by Elaine Howard Ecklund, Anne E. Lincoln, and Cassandra Tansey, in Gender & Society, October 2012 vol. 26 no. 5 693-717 [Free article]

' ... Utilizing data from a survey of scientists at thirty top U.S. graduate programs in physics and biology (n = 2,503) and semistructured interviews with 150 of them, this article examines the reasons academic scientists provide for differences in the distribution of women in biology and physics. In quantitative analyses, gender is more salient than discipline in determining the reasons scientists provide for gender disparities between disciplines, suggesting that gender may act as a "master status," shaping the experiences of scientists regardless of the gender composition of the discipline. ...'

"E-mails Ignored, Meetings Denied: Bias at the Search Stage Limits Diversity," in Knowledge@Wharton, September 26, 2012

' ... In two recent papers [see article for links], Milkman, Akinola and Chugh examine how this type of discrimination plays out in the world of academia. Using an experiment that explored the treatment of prospective applicants to doctoral programs, they found that professors were significantly less likely to be responsive to communication from women or minority applicants -- and that the level of unresponsiveness was greater within academic disciplines that tend to pay more, and at private institutions, where faculty salaries are higher on average.'

"How to Repair the Gender Pay Gap? Teach Negotiation Skills in College," by Rachel Simmons and Jessica Bacal, in Huff Post Women, November 8, 2012

'Last Wednesday, the American Association of University Women reported that women in their first year out of college are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers -- creating a heavier college debt burden and lifelong wage gap at a time when women are increasingly the primary breadwinners of their households.

'The cause of that gap? Most experts would say old-fashioned discrimination, or perhaps young women's tendency to major in "soft" subjects like English or Art History. But we think there's something they're missing: a psychological glass ceiling -- the barrier created by a thick layer of internalized cultural messages -- that causes women to hold themselves back.

'The psychological glass ceiling begins to form when young women, fresh out of college, attempt to negotiate their first salaries. They balk at asking for more money and are discouraged when they hear the word "no." ...'

"Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students," by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman, in PNAS, published on line September 17, 2012, open access

' ... In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student - who was randomly assigned either a male or female name - for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. ...'

"Overcoming Unconscious Bias," AURA Diversity Brochure

"What’s really holding women back?" by Audrey Quinn, blog post in smartplanet.com

'Many professional women can relate to such scenarios: those moments when the only woman in the room is tasked with taking notes during a meeting; when a supervisor asks a female employee to run an errand she suspects he wouldn't ask of her male coworkers; when an executive repeatedly goes out for after work drinks with just "the guys."

'Whether these perceived slights are as overt as a push-up contest or as subtle as a post-work drink, such situations can instill women with a damaging sense of threat, says Stanford University gender scholar Lauren Aguilar — even if other women or men nearby don't perceive them the same way.

'"These can be very subtle social things that seem really innocent," Aguilar explains, "but for some women they're really taken as, 'I don't belong here, or I might be treated differently because of my gender here.'"

'The repercussions of such sensitivity are especially damaging for women in a business setting, where a person continuously needs to be "on" socially in order to succeed.

'To evaluate this, Aguilar asked a large group of women to complete a survey. Each woman answered eleven questions regarding how much she worried that gender stereotypes put her at a professional disadvantage. Some women registered a higher sensitivity to such threat than others. Aguilar then observed how well the women performed in a constructed business negotiation.'

"Where are the women professors? Unconscious gender biases," blog post by John Johnson

'I started out this series with a simple axiom: men and women are equally capable of succeeding as professional astronomers. I then made the observation that women are underrepresented in faculty positions compared to the percentage of women graduating with PhDs. What could cause such a deficit? One possibility is unconscious bias in the minds of those hiring professors. Let's check out the evidence.'

There follows an unusually good summary of the study entitled "Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students" by Moss-Racusin et al.

"Study Suggests Fix for Gender Bias on the Job," by Rachel Emma Silverman, in The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2013

'Scholars at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School found that people who evaluated candidates singly were highly influenced by the candidates' gender. When various employees were considered for promotion at the same time, however, gender didn't affect assessments.'

"How to undo stereotypes that hinder women in science, by Hazel Sive, December 11, 2012, Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative

Briefly summarizes the Yale University study that demonstrates unconscious bias on the part of both male and female scientists and suggests positive steps to combat unconsious bias.

"How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science," by Shankar Vedantam from NPR News, July 16, 2012

Report on a study by S. E. Holleran, J. Whitehead, T. Schmader, and M. R. Mehl, published in Social Psychological & Personality Science

'Mehl and Schmader ... had male and female scientists at a research university wear the audio recorders and go about their work. When the scientists analyzed the audio samples, they found there was a pattern in the way the male and female professors talked to one another.

'When male scientists talked to other scientists about their research, it energized them. But it was a different story for women.

'"For women, the pattern was just the opposite, specifically in their conversations with male colleagues," Schmader said. "So the more women in their conversations with male colleagues were talking about research, the more disengaged they reported being in their work."

'Disengagement predicts that someone is at risk of dropping out.'

"Study Finds Gender Bias in the Perception of the Value of Scientific Papers," in WIA Report, April 17, 2013

'A new study by lead author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a professor of communication at Ohio State University, finds that the gender of the author of scientific papers can have an impact on how the research is received. Young graduate students were given abstracts of research papers and were asked to assess the work. The names of the authors were fictitious and were obviously male or female. The author names were not prominently displayed. Some participants were given a paper with male authors while other participants were given the same paper with women authors. In most cases, the papers with male authors were rated higher than those with female authors. Papers by woman authors on topics such as parenting, children, and body image were rated higher but on other most other topics, papers by male authors were rated higher.'

"The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly ..." by Melanie Tannenbaum, PsySociety, Scientific American Blog Network, April 2, 2013

'Something can’t actually be sexist if it’s really, really nice, right?

'I mean, if someone compliments me on my looks or my cooking, that’s not sexist. That’s awesome! I should be thrilled that I’m being noticed for something positive!

'Yet there are many comments that, while seemingly complimentary, somehow still feel wrong. These comments may focus on an author’s appearance rather than the content of her writing, or mention how surprising it is that she’s a woman, being that her field is mostly filled with men. Even though these remarks can sometimes feel good to hear – and no one is denying that this type of comment can feel good, especially in the right context – they can also cause a feeling of unease, particularly when one is in the position of trying to draw attention towards her work rather than personal qualities like her gender or appearance.'

"Women in science: Weird sisters?," by Patricia Fara, in Nature, 7 March 2013

' ...

'Current writers, male and female, are keen to distance themselves from old-fashioned approaches. Still, to boost their book's appeal, they emphasize the singularity of their subjects. It seems that being an ordinary woman with a stellar scientific career is simply not enough: to be marketable, she must also be odd. Dust jackets entice purchasers by rebranding an overlooked character as a unique female individual — in other words, as a weird woman.'

"Saying What You Mean to Say," posted on March 10, 2013 by Athene Donald

'I feel I no longer have any clear sense of [the value of letters of recommendation]. I started off persuaded that there were simple gender differences and one should be able to read between the lines to overcome any such inherent if unconscious bias. I ended up worrying that in most letters there are emotive words – positive or negative – that can colour my perception without necessarily having any relevant content.'

"How to Be a 'Woman Programmer'," by Ellen Ullman, in The New York Times Sunday Review, The Opinion Pages, May 18, 2013

' ...If hired by start-ups, younger women find themselves sorely underrepresented. One woman told me that in her growing, 24-person company there were four women, which is “considered a good ratio.” And, as always, our ranks thin at the deeper technical levels. We get stalled at marketing and customer support, writing scripts for Web pages. Yet coding, looking into the algorithmic depths, getting close to the machine, is the driver of technology; and technology, in turn, is driving fundamental changes in personal, social and political life.

'The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women. The rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial. But no matter how strong the social structure, there is always that cheek-slapped moment when you are alone with the anti-woman prejudice: the joke, the leer, the disregard, the invisibility, the inescapable fact that the moment you walk through the door you are seen as lesser, no matter what your credentials.'

"Language Myth # 6: Women Talk Too Much," by Janet Holmes, reprinted from Language Myths (Penguin)

' ... It appears that men generally talk more in formal, public contexts where informative and persuasive talk is highly valued, and where talk is generally the prerogative of those with some societal status and has the potential for increasing that status. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to contribute in private, informal interactions, where talk more often functions to maintain relationships, and in other situations where for various reasons they feel socially confident.'

"You Don’t Know It, But Women See Gender Bias in Your Job Postings," by Stephen Shearman, Opinion column in ERE.net, Mar 1, 2013

'Are a few gender-themed words in your job descriptions signaling women, unconsciously, to not apply?

'A scientific study of 4,000 job descriptions revealed that a lack of gender-inclusive wording caused significant implications for recruiting professionals tasked to recruit women to hard-to-fill positions underrepresented by women.'

The comments on this post make many interesting points, including links to sources of gender-free language for job descriptions.

"Fewer invited talks by women in evolutionary biology symposia," by J. Schroeder et al., 2013, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, doi: 10.1111/jeb.12198, published on line 20 June 2013

'We analysed the sex ratio of presenters at the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) Congress 2011, where all abstract submissions were accepted for presentation. Women were under-represented among invited speakers at symposia (15% women) compared to all presenters (46%), regular oral presenters (41%) and plenary speakers (25%). At the ESEB congresses in 2001–2011, 9–23% of invited speakers were women. This under-representation of women is partly attributable to a larger proportion of women, than men, declining invitations: in 2011, 50% of women declined an invitation to speak compared to 26% of men. ... We wish to highlight the wider implications of turning down invitations to speak, and encourage conference organizers to implement steps to increase acceptance rates of invited talks.'

"Professional communities, barriers to inclusion, and the value of a posse," by Janet Stemwedel, in the Scientific American blog Doing Good Science, July 9, 2013

...

'People who work very hard to be part of a professional community despite systemic barriers ... need a posse. They need others in the community who are unwilling to sacrifice their values — or the well-being of less powerful people who share those values — to take consistent stands against behaviors that create barriers and that undermine the shared work of the community.

'These stands needn't be huge heroic gestures. It could be as simple as reliably being that guy who asks for better gender balance in planning seminars, or who reacts to casual sexist banter with, "Dude, not cool!" It could take the form of asking about policies that might lessen barriers, and taking on some of the work involved in creating or implementing them.

'It could be listening to your women colleagues when they describe what it has been like for them within your professional community and assuming the default position of believing them, rather than looking for possible ways they must have misunderstood their own experiences.'

"Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention," by Patricia G. Devine, Patrick S. Forscher, Anthony J. Austin, and William T.L. Cox (Psychology Department, University of Wisconsin, Madison) in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 6, November 2012, Pages 1267–1278, retrieved from ScienceDirect, August 25, 2013

'We developed a multi-faceted prejudice habit-breaking intervention to produce long-term reductions in implicit race bias. The intervention is based on the premise that implicit bias is like a habit that can be broken through a combination of awareness of implicit bias, concern about the effects of that bias, and the application of strategies to reduce bias. In a 12-week longitudinal study, people who received the intervention showed dramatic reductions in implicit race bias. People who were concerned about discrimination or who reported using the strategies showed the greatest reductions. The intervention also led to increases in concern about discrimination and personal awareness of bias over the duration of the study. People in the control group showed none of the above effects. Our results raise the hope of reducing persistent and unintentional forms of discrimination that arise from implicit bias.'

The five strategies in which the subjects were trained were:
  • Stereotype replacement: ' ... recognizing that a response is based on stereotypes, labeling the response as stereotypical, and reflecting on why the response occurred. Next one considers how the biased response could be avoided in the future and replaces it with an unbiased response.
  • Counter-stereotypic imaging: 'imagining in detail counter-stereotypic others, ... [making] positive exemplars salient and accessible when challenging a stereotype's validity.'
  • Individuation: evaluating 'members of the target group based on personal, rather than group-based, attributes.'
  • Perspective taking: 'taking the perspective ... of a member of a stereotyped group.'
  • Increasing opportunities for interaction with out-group members

"The Trouble With Bright Girls", Published on January 27, 2011 by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. in The Science of Success

'For women, ability doesn’t always lead to confidence. Here’s why. ...

' ... psychologist Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) conducted a series of studies in the 1980s, looking at how bright girls and boys in the fifth grade handled new, difficult and confusing material.

'She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up--and the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts, rather than give up.'

"What to Do If You’re Sick of Taking on the 'Second Shift' at Work Too," by Melissa J. Anderson, in The Glass Hammer, September 19th, 2013

'A few months ago, a friend of mine wrote a post on Facebook about something that had frustrated her at work. My friend, who works in a technology role for a federal contractor, had received an email from a male colleague, asking if she wouldn't mind helping to set up the office kitchen for a team party. All of the other women on the team got the email. None of the men did.

'This may seem like a small thing, being asked to set up some refreshments for an office party. But, when you add up the consequences of being asked throughout your entire professional career to do these small chores, it's not. Microinequities like these are the building blocks that make up a workplace culture that positions women as the helpers, the cleaners, the fixers, the note-takers, the coffee-makers, the party planners, the support staff to the "real" workers – even if their job description is the same as everyone else's.'

"Gender bias in professional networks and citations," by David Lake, in The Monkey Cage, a blog on The Washington Post, posted October 4, 2013

In at least one scholarly discipline, international relations, papers by men are cited disproportionately to their numbers in the field. The author describes his own experience with the "citation gap" and makes conjectures regarding the reason for it: (1) men may devalue the work of female scholars; and (2) professional networks tend to be segregated by gender, and people tend to cite other members of their own networks. The post then argues that, even if there were no sexism and no unconscious bias, societal attitudes would lead to gendered professional networks. " ... this homophily does not require or imply any active prejudice or hostility, just a slightly higher probability of two men or two women establishing a professional relationship than a man and a woman - replicated many times over." The post concludes with recommendations for action by male and female professionals.

The Monkey Cage also posted several other articles on this topic earlier in the same week.

"Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?," by Eileen Pollack, in The New York Times Magazine, October 3, 2013

Long, informative article based largely on the author's own experience, as well as interviews with senior adminitrators, such as Meg Urry, and with students. A typical passage near the end:

'Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

'"Oh, that's easy," one of them said. "We're the women who don't give a crap."

'Don't give a crap about — ?

'"What people expect us to do."

'"Or not do."

'"Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you're not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that's your problem."

'"Face it," one of the women said, "grad school is a hazing for anyone, male or female. But if there are enough women in your class, you can help each other get through."'

"Why Are There So Few Women in Science, Continued," by Joan Williams, in Huff Post Women, October 7, 2013

Commentary on the previous article, drawing attention to the role of parenthood in forcing women out of science while also discussing the role of unconscious bias.

"Implicit Biases & Evaluating Job Candidates," posted in Dynamic Ecology, November 6, 2013, by "duffymeg"

'As much as we like to think we are all completely fair and unbiased, there is abundant evidence that we all have biases that influence how we think and act. These are known as "schemas", and provide us with a framework for interacting with others. Schemas can be good – they allow us to more efficiently and rapidly process information – but they also can cause problems, in that sometimes our schemas lead us to treat people differently based on age, gender, sexual orientation, race, etc., in a way that we would not wish to.'

A nice summary of the available evidence from the research literature, with links to the original articles.

"Chair of major law firm champions 'sponsorship' of women and minorities," by Brigid Schulte, in The Washington Post Business November 14, 2013

'Kent Gardiner, chairman of the law firm Crowell & Moring, sat down to talk about why his firm is partnering with economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Center for Talent Innovation to promote sponsorship of women and minorities in the workplace, how sponsoring is different and why it matters.

... 'Many of the more senior people in these organizations think diversity enhancement is some accommodation, an agreed-upon weakening of the organization. That’s unconscious bias.

'Sponsorship goes right at that and says, "No, wait a minute, you're completely misunderstanding here. The folks who are of a more diverse nature, whether gender, race, or ethnicity, are just encountering a different obstacle course to success than the relatively obstacle-free course that exists for white men."'

This resource is also linked on our mentoring page.

"Why We See Guns That Aren't There," by Melanie Tannenbaum, in Scientific American PsySociety blog, July 27, 2013

'If you had a split second to decide whether or not to shoot someone in front of you, do you think you would shoot? Do you think the other person's skin color would matter? To test the idea that people might respond differently to Black and White targets, Correll and colleagues designed a first-person shooting game to test how ordinary people might make the split-second decision to either shoot or not shoot a potentially armed target, otherwise known as the Police Officer's Dilemma.

...

Simply being highly aware of prejudice in the world, even if you don't agree with, support, or like that prejudice, makes it more likely that you might make the fateful mistake of shooting an unarmed target when making split-second decisions in uncertain conditions. The more aware you are of cultural stereotypes, the more likely you are to make a biased mistake.'

To learn more about this seemingly counterintuitive result, read more in the blog, and also see the highly informative comments.

Impostor Syndrome

Individuals of both genders, but women more than men, feel that they are not as competent as their peers think they are. Lately, some resources with positive suggestions for addressing this problem have become available.

"Impostors Welcome:" A blog post by Ed Bertschinger, chair Department of Physics, MIT

`It's important for educators to be aware of Impostor Syndrome as well as preventative and palliative measures. It's endemic at my university and maybe at yours. We should educate students that they're not alone in having these feelings and that there are helpful responses. As Kathy suggests, having a malleable rather than a fixed mindset is helpful. Successful people everywhere learn that failure is the first step towards mastery.'

About.com: The Impostor Syndrome: Are You Fooling Everyone? By Tara Kuther, Ph.D.

'The impostor syndrome or phenomena is the feeling of being an intellectual phony and is prevalent among high achieving persons. It is characterized by feeling unable to take credit for accomplishments, academic excellence, and recognition, as well as dismissing success as simply luck, good timing, or perseverance. ...

'How do you get over the impostor syndrome? Easier said than done. What else can you do?'

Beating the impostor syndrome: Why we all feel like fakes, and why it does not matter (PDF, 470 KB) by Margot Gerritsen, at "Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences: Workshop for Graduate Students and Post-Doctoral Fellows," Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Fighting back against 'Imposter Syndrome'" from Women in Planetary Science, April 5, 2012

This blog post links to two other interesting blog posts about the imposter syndrome. [Note the two equally valid spellings.] The first post contrasts scientists with professional athletes, for whom the standard narrative emphasizes the difficulties they have had to overcome, which that blogger thinks is not the case for scientists. The second post comments on the first one.

"The Imposter Syndrome and its effect on workplace performance," from HC Oline posted April 26, 2012

'People who experience the syndrome occasionally can reduce its impact by improving their emotional intelligence (EI) – specifically their self-awareness and self-management. By learning and accepting their strengths and successes, they can become more personally integrated which gives them a solid foundation upon which to base further success. They can then build their Emotional Resilience (ER) which provides them with flexibility and positivity in uncertain times.

'However, where someone experiences the syndrome at a chronic level – frequently and intensely, EI and ER are not enough. They need to recognise and deal with the way the Imposter Syndrome impacts them and the behaviours they engage in to keep themselves safe from discovery as the fakes and frauds they believe they are. ...'

"Impostors, the Culture of Science, and Fulfilling Our Potential," by Kate Clancy, Scientific American Blog, August 9, 2012

' ... What struck me by the end of the session is that impostor syndrome is universal. The folks who wanted to demolish impostors and the folks who wanted to stop feeling like an impostor are on either side of the same coin. People who are less of an authority than they think they are, and people (mostly women and people of color) who are more of an authority than they think or are treated, are a result of issues in the culture of science, which includes universal issues of sexism and racism.'

"Impostors, Performers, Professionals - II," by Steven J. Corbett and Teagan E. Decker, from Inside Higher Ed October 17, 2012

When is it legitimate to be an impostor? Here, two humanities scholars describe how, after several job interviews in which they projected their ordinary selves fell flat, they assumed a persona and managed to impress faculty search committees. Both are now legitimately successful in tenure-track positions and have progressed beyond the impostor syndrome.

"Impostor syndrome," from Geek Feminism Wiki

'Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is being needlessly insecure. It's especially common in fields where people's work is constantly under review by talented peers, such as academia or Open Source Software.'

This page goes on to itemize the effects of impostor syndrome and steps that can be taken to combat the syndrome by sufferers, friends and colleagues, and supervisors, conference chairs, etc.

Stereotype Threat

Reducingstereotypethreat.org

'Reducingstereotypethreat.org was created by two social psychologists as a resource for faculty, teachers, students, and the general public interested in the phenomenon of stereotype threat. This website offers summaries of research on stereotype threat and discusses unresolved issues and controversies in the research literature. Included are some research-based suggestions for reducing the negative consequences of stereotyping, particularly in academic settings.'

Discover Magazine blog, "15-minute writing exercise closes the gender gap in university-level physics," by Ed Yong

Based on a letter in Science. Similar methods for reducing stereotype threat are discussed in Reducingstereotypethreat.org

'Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

'This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.'

"Connecting High School Physics Experiences, Outcome Expectations, Physics Identity, and Physics Career Choice: A Gender Study" by Zahra Hazari, Gerhard Sonnert, Philip M. Sadler, and Marie-Claire Shanahan, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, No. 8, pp. 978-1003 (2010)

'This study explores how students' physics identities are shaped by their experiences in high school physics classes and by their career outcome expectations. The theoretical framework focuses on physics identity and includes the dimensions of student performance, competence, recognition by others, and interest. ... Confirming the salience of the identity dimension for young persons' occupational plans, the measure for students' physics identity used in this study was found to strongly predict their intended choice of a physics career. Physics identity, in turn, was found to correlate positively with a desire for an intrinsically fulfilling career and negatively with a desire for personal/family time and opportunities to work with others. ... Surprisingly, several experiences that were hypothesized to be important for females’ physics identity were found to be non-significant including having female scientist guest speakers, discussion of women scientists’ work, and the frequency of group work. This study exemplifies a useful theoretical framework based on identity, which can be employed to further examine persistence in science, and illustrates possible avenues for change in high school physics teaching.'

"Women, Math, and the Addition of Stereotypes," by Kathy Seal, in Miller-McCune/Pacific Standard, April 14, 2012

Good summary of recent scholarly debates on the role of stereotype threat in creating gender and racial imbalances in science.

"Even positive stereotypes can hinder performance, researchers report," by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, University of Illinois News Bureau, April 23, 2012

'Does hearing that you are a member of an elite group – of chess players, say, or scholars – enhance your performance on tasks related to your alleged area of expertise? Not necessarily, say researchers who tested how sweeping pronouncements about the skills or likely success of social groups can influence children’s performance.

'The researchers found that broad generalizations about the likely success of a social group – of boys or girls, for example – actually undermined both boys' and girls' performance on a challenging activity.'

"Women and the Software Industry: The Truth about Stereotypes, Retention, and the Gender Gap," by Brittany Hunter, from Atomic Spin

'Stereotype threat negatively affects productivity and innovation in the software industry and other STEM fields. Developing the self confidence to separate the truth of reality ("I’m a talented software designer.") from the lies of stereotype threat ("I’m a girl and don’t belong in this industry because girls aren’t good at it.") enables women to truly flourish in their industry and make a difference in the world.'

Gender imbalance in prestigious awards ("Matilda Effect")

The Matilda effect is the negative of the Matthew Effect, a well-known concept in sociology. From BalancedReading.com: 'There is a line in the Matthew's Gospel that says, "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath" (XXV:29). This line has often been summarized as, "The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer."'

"The Matilda Effect in Science: Awards and Prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s," by The Raise Project: Anne Lincoln, Stephanie Pincus, Janet Koster, and Phoebe Leboy

' ... a great deal of evidence suggests that the scientific efforts and achievements of women do not receive the same recognition as do those of men: the "Matilda Effect". Awards in science, technology, engineering and medical (STEM) fields are not immune to these biases. We outline the research on gender bias in evaluations of research and analyze data from 13 STEM disciplinary societies. While women’s receipt of professional awards and prizes has increased in the past two decades, men continue to win a higher proportion of awards for scholarly research than expected based on their representation in the nomination pool. The results support the powerful twin influences of implicit bias and committee chairs as contributing factors.'

Version published in Social Studies of Science; news story in USA TODAY

Resources on gender balance in scientific societies' awards from the AWIS AWARDS project

'Awards are external markers of achievement and recognition, and are important for job satisfaction and career advancement in academic professions. After receiving recognition, awardees provide inspiration for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals and for those aspiring to an academic career. However, marked gender disparities in rewards and recognition have resulted in a climate that hinders advancement of women and impairs their retention as STEM leaders.'

Detailed reports on this topic can be found at the bottom of the referenced page.

"NIH Director's Pioneer Awards: could the selection process be biased against women?," by M. Carnes, S. Geller, E. Fine, J. Sheridan, and J. Handelsman 2005, indexed in PubMed

In the first year of the program, 'Nine excellent scientists were chosen as NIH Pioneers, but the selection of all men is at odds with the percentage of women receiving doctoral degrees for the past three decades, serving as principal investigators on NIH research grants, and achieving recognition as scientific innovators in non-NIH award competitions.'

In a report on evaluation of five years of the program, it is made clear that procedures and award criteria evolved significantly during that period, and gender balance between the awards and the applicant pool was achieved. Still, the first year's experience is an example of what can happen if precautions are not taken.

"Avoiding Implicit Bias: Guidelines for ASA Awards Committees," from the American Statistical Association

Sensible advice for construction of committees, cultivation of nominees, and selection of winners.

"Is Math Still Just a Man’s World?" by Alice B. Popejoy and Phoebe S. Leboy, in Journal of Mathematics and System Science, 2 (2012) 292-298

Reports on AWIS's AWARDS project as it applies to the AMS (American Mathematical Society), the MAA (Mathematical Association of America), the SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) and the ASA (American Statistical Association). Methods for estimating the sizes of eligible pools for awards are presented, and the gender ratio in the pools is compared with those receiving the awards. As other studies have found, women are overrepresented among winners of awards for teaching and service and underrepresented among winners of awards for research.

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This page last updated: November 18, 2013