Gender biases in science and a Mrs Trump

As my PhD starts to wind up I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about future career options.  The career route which is most obvious, and certainly encouraged as a PhD, is to pursue a career in academia as a professor.  However, despite this being 2016, and despite a 50:50 male female split amongst PhD graduates, being a female is still a huge disadvantage in academia.  In my department there are just over 130 professors, and only 24 of those are female.  That means women make up only 18%.

Now granted historically science has been heavily male dominated, and it does take time to change the demographics.  Knowing that enrolment in our PhD program (and graduates) has been gender balanced for quite some time, my classmates and I named every recent hire we could think of in the past 3-4 years in our department.  We came up with 10 new hires.

The demographics?  100% white males.

So why is this?  Both males and females are graduating at equal rates, presumably with similar qualifications and publication records.  Yet only males are continuing in academia. Is this due to females preferring other more “family friendly” career paths, or is it due to their being viewed as lesser candidates?

Recently I’ve noticed several news articles discussing the double standards for how men and women are perceived.  Take, for instance, this BBC article which debates how a “Mrs Trump” candidate would fair in the US election:

Could a Mrs Trump get away with this?

Probably not, according to linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, who explains the double-bind facing women who run for office:

“If a candidate – or manager – talks or acts in ways expected of women, she risks being seen as under-confident or even incompetent,” she wrote in the Washington Post.

“But if she talks or acts in ways expected of leaders, she is likely to be seen as too aggressive and will be subject to innumerable other negative judgments – and epithets – that apply only to women.”

Interestingly, this article was published in the National Post a few days ago highlighting the differences in men’s and women’s speech patterns and how they are perceived:

A 2015 experiment showed that when men spoke in angry tones, they came across as more credible and more persuasive. But when women spoke forcefully, they were less likely to change people’s minds. Subjects perceived the angry women as emotional and untrustworthy.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope,” Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and University of Pennsylvania professor Adam Grant wrote in an op-ed last year. “Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”

When it comes to science (and many professions), your credibility and persuasiveness are critical to your advancement.  Without these skills it would be impossible to gain funding, collaborations, or publications.  So it’s no wonder that women being perceived as less credible and persuasive has an impact on their career development.

But now the tough question: How do we change this????




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