There have been a lot of stories in the media recently regarding the biases against women in science. I welcome this discussion and the research exposing these biases. A friend of mine who is an Engineer recently shared with me a study by University of Washington, University of Virginia, Harvard University, and Yale University called Project Implicit. This project is studying implicit social cognition or unconscious biases affecting various facets of our social interaction. Their online tests explore racial, ethnic, age, weight, and gender biases.
My engineering colleague took the gender-science test and was part of only 3% of the population that showed a “moderate association of Female with Science and Male with Liberal Arts”. I also took the test, expecting a similar result due to my personal identification as a woman in science. However, I was surprised to see result of a “moderate association of Male with Science and Female with Liberal Arts”.
Despite the fact that I grew up in a family where I was encouraged to pursue my interests in science and in which everyone (male and female) studied science or engineering, I still internalized unconscious bias against women in the scientific disciplines. If women and men internalize such bias as part of cultural norms, then overturning the systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women (and minorities) requires more than simple institutional “fixes” or encouraging girls to pursue careers in science. A recent study by Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College suggests that education of science professionals may reduce discrimination. While this may help, clearly education about biases (and privileges) in our society must start at an earlier age.