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December 12, 2018

Women and girls less likely to be considered for intellectual roles, study finds

Women and girls less likely to be considered for intellectual roles, study finds

While female students do better at school and are more likely to go to university than their male counterparts, the latest study into gender bias has revealed women and girls are less likely to be considered for “brainy tasks.” 

A study carried out by researchers at New York University and the University of Illinois has revealed that irrespective of their cognitive capabilities, girls and women are likely to be regarded as intellectually inferior to their male peers.

New York University professor, Dr Andrei Cimpian, who co-authored the research, said the study showed that people act upon the stereotypes they hold. This research may help to explain the under-representation of women in industries seen as requiring a high IQ, such as technology. 

“Despite their achievements in the classroom and the workplace, our experiments suggest that women and girls may still encounter bias in circumstances where brilliance is viewed as the key to success,” said Cimpian. 

The study shows how deeply rooted gender bias can be in the hiring process and why it’s so hotly debated. Cimpian explains: “If [the] referral process is biased then even if the ultimate decision is based on merit, you are still making a decision on the basis of a pool of candidates that doesn’t have as many women as it should have given their competence.”

Ulf Rinne discusses using anonymous job applications to tackle hiring discrimination in his IZA World of Labor article. He notes that anonymous job applications “level the playing field” by shifting the focus towards qualifications and skills. He says: “Anonymous job applications can prevent discrimination in the initial screening stage of recruitment.”

The report was based on an experiment that Cimpian and colleagues carried out on one group of 350 people and then another group of 800 participants.  

The experiment required participants to read a job description and then recommend two people for the position. Half of each group were told the job needed skills like “consistent effort,” and the other half were given a job description outlining the need for brains.

“Both men and women were less likely to recommend a woman for the 'brilliance' job than the 'boring' job,” Cimpian said. The researchers found the odds of women being referred for a job were 25.3% worse when traits like IQ were mentioned but just as likely as men when “consistent effort” was a required trait. 

They undertook another experiment on a group of 192 children aged between 5 and 7, asking them to pick teammates from photos of anonymous boys and girls. When they were told the game was for “really, really smart people,” the likelihood of girls being chosen as teammates dropped. 

“Kids are not born with this idea—we are still in the process of figuring out exactly where it is coming from,” Cimpian said, also adding that the media, parents, and teachers could be involved.

Dame Athene Donald, a professor of experimental physics at the University of Cambridge said: “[This study] should be a wake-up call to our society to change our thinking and how we pass on these biases in our daily lives to the next generation.” 

Read more about workplace discrimination here