Defending The "Myth" About Women in Science
You may recall that in November 2014, we wrote about the research led by Professors Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci, which they published on +The New York Times
under the headline, Academic Science Isn’t Sexist.
The researchers are at it again, having published another article with +CNN
titled The Myth About Women in Science.
The researchers argue that women in science are favoured by faculty hiring panels 2:1; however, their study makes these claims based on a flawed study design. Williams and Ceci sent out surveys asking a sample of academics to rate three hypothetical candidates (two men, one woman) based on a short narrative by a fictional hiring committee Chair. This is not how women academics are hired in the real world.
In the reality, women scientists send in their CVs and responses to selection criteria, with supporting materials such as teaching records, letters of recommendation, publications and grants record and so on. Then a selection panel chooses a shortlist. Applicants interview. The panel then reviews and deliberates on the interviews and materials, and so on.
Even though their study does not address the real life context of hiring decisions, Williams and Ceci write on CNN:"Our results, coupled with actuarial data on real-world academic hiring showing a female advantage, suggest this is a propitious time for women beginning careers in academic science. The low numbers of women in math-based fields of science do not result from sexist hiring, but rather from women's lower rates of choosing to enter math-based fields in the first place, due to sex differences in preferred careers and perhaps to lack of female role models and mentors... the only sexism they face in the hiring process is bias in their favor.
Various women in STEM have published critiques of Williams and Ceci's research, including one of our managers, +Zuleyka Zevallos
, who shows why the study's methods do not match the researchers' conclusions (http://goo.gl/pgm2C9
). Dr +Karen James
has curated the Twitter and blog conversations showing why Williams and Ceci's publicity of their research is disingenuous at the very least, and damaging to the cause of gender equity and inclusion (http://goo.gl/b70Edf
Dr +Kathryn Clancy
coined the term #GaslightingDuo
which is the Twitter hashtag being used to discuss the broader issues with the coverage of Williams and Ceci's research (http://goo.gl/vd89Yn
). This term reflects how Williams and Ceci's opinion pieces, which are published in popular media, without scientific critique, are tantamount to telling women they are making up the discrimination they experience, which is actually well-documented in the scientific literature.
Williams and Ceci have dismissed critiques about their methods, dismissing women scientists as nothing but "online detractors." Now Science Careers,
a publication by the +AAAS - The American Association for the Advancement of Science
, has joined Williams and Ceci's defence, by publishing a one-sided article, without acknowledging the scientific critiques of their research. They quote Williams:"It’s tempting to blame gender when you don't get a job and you’re a woman. It’s easier … than to admit that the entire premise of what you've done for the past 7 years of your life was flawed at the root."
The fact is that many studies have demonstrated that bias against women exists in hiring and at other stages of the academic "pipeline." One such study is research showing that, when evaluating CVs with identical information, with only the genders being different, men are favoured over women (http://goo.gl/yT2FqR
Dr +Marie-Claire Shanahan
includes a useful review of the literature showing that bias against women has a negative impact on their hiring and subsequent careers. She cautions that the story that Williams and Ceci are selling, which is being enthusiastically supported by the media, is one which will further disadvantage women:"The authors wouldn’t have published at CNN if they didn’t want this to be a dinner table, playground, and soccer team conversation piece. Yet, without much evidence that hiring bias is the major obstacle, this study adds a strong voice to the public conversation about science that says: “Guess what, no bias! Just choose to apply to tenure track jobs!” How might the CNN piece (and even the study) sound around the water cooler?: “That thing about women in science struggling to get jobs, totally a myth.”
Williams and Ceci are trying to change the narrative about women in STEM, arguing that being "negative" about the challenges women face is turning women away from science. That narrative is false. Scientific research shows that women's abilities and enthusiasm is not the issue, nor is the problem that women in science are speaking up about sexism, sexual harassment and discrimination. Sexism doesn't end by pretending women have some hypothetical balance in our favour, especially given that data show this is not the case. Sexism ends through active education about gender bias, by addressing institutional barriers, and by better informing the public about how to support girls and women in STEM education.
Learn more on the research and how to target gender bias our piece for +nature.com blogs
: http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2014/09/04/nature-vs-nurture-girls-and-stemLearn more
* More on how gender impacts evaluation of academic CVs: http://goo.gl/EZSBmt
* Men at elite institutions prefer not to hire women: http://goo.gl/5Iq1tk
* Social impact of Williams and Ceci's research http://is.gd/DS5_11
and why the media loves to hyperbole research that conforms to gender stereotypes. http://is.gd/DS6_4 #stemwomen #stemeducation #womeinscience #science #stillaproblem