Women in Science

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”.

Project Implicit results

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.

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1 Comment

Filed under bias, career, women in science

One response to “Women in Science

  1. Well, I guess it was nice to quantify something we already knew. In my opinion, these biases against women reflect the long-standing traditions of American culture in general, and more specifically, the strong influence of Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical religious convictions about the appropriate roles of men and women in society (i.e., men must be leaders; providers; and strong, manly, manful men (hat tip to John Belushi) and women must submit to men, prize motherhood, enjoy homemaking, avoid taxing their inadequate brains, dote on their men, and strive to be as beautiful and sexy as possible so her man will have a great fuck every time). I would apologize for the crassness of that last statement in the parentheses, but I have lived my whole life down South—and that last one is very important in the southern subculture.

    I think we anthropologists call it “culture change” or “sociocultural dynamics”—unless someone coined another term in the past 30 years. What I hear you saying is that things need to change. The real trick is how to go about doing it. The only thing that might work is to raise every American child under some sort of Israeli kibbutz model designed to erase the bias—like that is going to happen!!! Tough opposition will come from conservative political organizations (many female), Red States, religious organizations, and the now Solid American South. It is certainly one tall order. My heart is with you—but good luck—you are going to need it.

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