Amid the ongoing push to interest young women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, new research finds that gender bias continues to hamper females’ careers in those disciplines.

A paper—“Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students”—published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, finds subtle but strong bias against female science students from both male and female faculty.

In the study, “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 mean starting salary offered the student identified as a male was $30,238.10. For the ostensibly female student with the same qualifications, the mean salary offer was $26,507.94. The gender of the faculty member did not affect responses.

Why would such disparity exist? “Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent,” according to the abstract of the paper, written by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham and Jo Handelsman

The paper concludes, in part, “subtle gender bias is important to address because it could translate into large real-world disadvantages in the judgment and treatment of female science students.” Many women do not stay in STEM careers and the paper raises the possibility “that women may opt out of academic science careers in part because of diminished competence judgments, rewards, and mentoring received in the early years of the careers. In sum, the predoctoral years represent a window during which students’ experiences of faculty bias or encouragement are particularly likely to shape their persistence in academic science.”

The complete research paper can be read here. How do you assess the impact of the paper’s findings on efforts to involve young women in STEM careers? Voice your opinions at Join the conversation.

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