"Belief: Academe is a meritocracy
Evidence: Although scientists like to believe that they “choose the best” based on objective criteria, decisions are influenced by factors—including biases about race, sex, geographic location of a university, and age—that have nothing to do with the quality of the person or work being evaluated.”
We also read a study on the impact of implicit bias and stereotypes on women, titled How Stereotypes Impair Women’s Careers in Science. This study asked some participants, ‘employers’, to hire other participants to perform an arithmetic task based on appearance alone. Men were twice as likely as likely as women to be hired. The next task asked ‘employers’ to hire study participants based on appearance and self-reported performance. Men were found to boast about their performance while women tended to undersell their abilities. Discrimination persisted in this task. The study showed that implicit stereotypes can explain much of the observed discrimination, that is ‘employers’ biased against women are initially less likely to hire women on appearance alone and subsequently are less likely to take into account the tendency of men to boast and of women to undersell their performance. From this article, we learned that implicit biases and stereotypes significantly impact perceptions of competence of women. Women interacting with biased individuals of any gender must do more to earn respect than their male peers. Our discussion focused on the difficulties involved in holding individuals accountable for their implicit biases. At the same time, we wondered whether it is more effective to address biased individuals or the system that allows these individuals to be biased. The issues are structural, but the realization of these issues is on an individual level. The very nature of these biases is invisible. Since they are invisible, they are neither discussed, nor perhaps perceived except by the careful observer. One of our goals is to bring these discussions to light. In doing so we hope to make the difficulties of women in science more transparent so that progress can be made.
We also discussed Margaret Rossiter’s book Women Scientists in America: Forging a New World since 1972. This book discussed ‘tokenism’, the practice of hiring small numbers of women and minority faculty members to give the appearance of diversity; ‘Revolving Doors’, the practice of hiring women and minority junior faculty members in tenure track positions an subsequently denying them tenure; the discrimination lawsuits which arose after the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX); and the difficulties faced by women in graduate school. Many of the students in our course plan to continue their studies in graduate school and were particularly affected by Rossiter’s accounts of sexual harassment in graduate school.
We ended our discussion with a comparison of the articles we have read about women and those we read about underrepresented minorities. We again mentioned that these articles, while ostensibly about the experiences of all women, in reality illustrate the challenges faced by white women much more accurately than those faced by women of color. We also noted that the articles on women are able to make much stronger claims. This might be partly because the majority of the American population identifies as one of two genders, while it is not true that the majority of Americans identify as one of two races. Additionally, gender is often easier to talk about than race. Cisgendered men are typically are happy to self-identify as male, while white people do not readily identify as white in everyday conversations. In addition, there is simply more literature on women in science than on minorities in science. These factors and more complicate discussions of race.