Traditionally, one of the explanations for the relatively low percentage of women in the faculty ranks of math and science departments has been the ongoing presence of discrimination. At every level of training and career, scientists must earn acceptance from peers, whether in admission to graduate programs, job interviews, or grant reviews. Bias, even if unconscious, can creep in to disadvantage female applicants, the theory goes.
A new study by two scholars in Cornell’s Department of Human Development argues that discrimination does not play a factor in the underrepresentation of women in scientific fields. In the awarding of fellowships, the review of manuscripts, and the interviewing for jobs, the authors found no evidence for bias against female candidates of comparable preparation to their male counterparts.
The real source of inequality is that women overwhelmingly occupy part-time or teaching-intensive positions, limiting their access to the resources needed to produce sophisticated research. Whether by choice or by societal expectations, women often prioritize what the authors call “fertility/lifestyle” concerns in establishing their careers. These decisions make it less likely for women scientists to develop a track record of success. The good news is that women scientists of similar training and accomplishment can count on fair treatment in the academic workplace.