Monday, March 25, 2013

Mind the Gender Gap

A recent Nature article discusses problems with the hiring and retention of women in science and engineering.

The National Science Foundation finds that while female scientists have made steady gains in recent decades they face persistent career challenges. US universities and colleges employ far more male scientists than female ones and men earn significantly more in science occupations.

While overt sexism seems to be rare, studies find that 52% of women report encountering gender bias during their careers, compared with just 2% of men.  Studies of unconscious bias in hiring find that identical resumes (one with a female name, and one with a male name) get significantly different salary offers.  Overall, women in physics and astronomy in the US make an average of 40% less than their male counterparts.

disproportionate fraction of qualified women drop out of science careers in the very early stages. Researchers speculate that the lack of role models in the upper divisions of academia are one cause for this problem.  Also, female science students are more likely than males to express low self-confidence in their scientific abilities.  Family concerns, also seem to be a huge factor in women not continuing in academia, with female post-doc parents being twice as likely to not continue in academia as male post-doc parents. 

What can we do as a community about these problems with hiring and retention of women?  Google recently did an in-depth study of it's promotion and hiring practices and identified it's own gender biases.  The company then took concrete actions to try and fix these issues.  These included providing more mentorship to women, making sure women are interviewed by women, changing their maternity leave policy, and making supervisors and hirers more aware of the gender differences that might causes these unconscious biases.

What does your department do to counteract gender bias?

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