AWIS Statement on Gender Bias in Science

May 5, 2023

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Shelley O’Brien
202-827-9798
obrien@awis.org

AWIS Statement on Gender Bias in Science

In a new study, authors examined six areas of the academy to identify whether or not gender disparities persist. They found evidence of gender parity in three of the six domains measured, however these results must not be extrapolated to mean that gender bias does not exist in academic science.

GENDER BIAS STILL PERSISTS

At AWIS, we know that bias still exists, because our members have shared heartbreaking and frustrating stories of discrimination, harassment, and draining microaggressions which stem from unconscious or explicit gender bias. In the areas of the study where tenure-track women have reached parity with men, they did so despite the bias they undoubtedly encountered on their journeys. In an automobile analogy, imagine two cars depart from point A at the same time. One is delayed by a flat tire while the other stops to visit a friend. They arrive at point B at the same time. If you only focus on the end result, their journeys appear equal, but their experiences were very different.

INTERVENTIONS ARE STILL CRITICAL

One of the study goals was to prioritize which areas are most in need of intervention. The authors suggest that interventions may no longer be needed in areas that have reached parity. We believe that women reached parity in these categories due to awareness of biases and efforts to counteract them such as unconscious bias training and double-blind reviews. The current levels of parity may backslide if funding is scaled back. (In our automobile analogy, we must continue to invest in road monitoring and maintenance to remove potential hazards.)

SYSTEMIC BARRIERS MUST BE ADDRESSED

The domains examined are interrelated and all part of the same system. Publications and awards drive hiring, salaries, and advancement – which in turn drive further opportunities for publications and awards, etc. One instance of bias can derail the trajectory of an entire career. Over a lifetime, the gap between where someone is and where they could have been becomes even greater.

These barriers are not unique to women. Bias affects people of color, caregivers, those with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and others with differing intersectional identities. We must continue to assess current systems and make adjustments to ensure diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. (In our automobile metaphor, if a car breaks down on the highway, they may need roadside assistance to get to their destination.)

MORE RESEARCH IS NEEDED

The study focused on PhDs interested in tenure-track academic careers and conducted a meta-analysis of empirical evidence between 2000 and 2020. Given the huge impact that the pandemic had on women’s career trajectories, continued research is needed. We agree with the author’s statement that “the careers of men and women develop differently.” We would like to better understand what causes and how to address this disparity. 

We also believe more data collection is needed to allow research on non-tenure track individuals and intersectional identities. AWIS signed a letter supporting data collection for LGBTQ+ individuals and patent applicants. This data is needed to drive interventions. (We can’t fix road hazards if we don’t know where they are!) 

DIVERSITY DRIVES INNOVATION

The authors repeatedly acknowledge that systemic factors may impede women’s progress such as the inflexibility of the tenure-track system, the “chilly climate,” and double standards such as agentic language and historic cultural expectations where women bear more of the burden for childcare and building a family (which is often during the tenure window). These pressures force many women to leave STEM and society loses the contributions of talented scientists.

Innovation and discovery are the lifeblood of science and our economy. We cannot afford to lose this talent. Studies have proven time and again that diverse teams drive better outcomes. However, diverse teams don’t just happen. They have to be built – and nurtured to be truly inclusive. This requires organizations to 1) put more effort into recruiting diverse talent, 2) make accommodations for different challenges that people face (such as caregiving responsibilities, disabilities, or long-term illness), and 3) provide training to employees and leaders to recognize bias and adopt inclusive behaviors.

AWIS will continue to champion women in science and equity in STEM. Recent examples of our work include connecting STEM jobseekers and recruiters through our career center, supporting the recommended actions published by Mothers In Science to accommodate caregivers such as deferments, extensions, and flexible schedules, and offering organizations an experiential learning program designed to increase inclusive behaviors. (In our analogy, we build on-ramps and rest stops along the highway for those that need them and advocate for mass transportation options so more people can arrive at point B.)

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About AWIS: Founded in 1971, AWIS has been the leading advocate for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to achieve business growth, social change, and innovation. We are dedicated to driving excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. In addition to scholarships, AWIS provides career resources, professional development, as well as networking, mentoring, and volunteer opportunities to build leadership skills. To learn more, visit awis.org and @AWISNational.