National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Deeply Disturbing Study Shows Bias Against Women in Science Runs Deep

September 28, 2012 | Workplace Fairness

Just days after the release of the National Partnership's analysis of new U.S. Census data that shows a gender-based wage gap exists in nearly every corner of the country, researchers at Yale University have published a powerful new study that shows gender impedes women's advancement in science. The stunning results reveal a deep and punishing bias against women - one that undercuts the potential for professional and financial success for women in the field.

According to the New York Times, the researchers wanted to assess barriers to advancement for women in science beyond the now common explanations used to justify women's absence or slow progress in the field. These are the same baseless excuses some people use to deny the existence of a gender-based wage gap in this country: women make different choices, they pursue less lucrative careers or they opt out of the workforce to care for children. As this new study and many others show, these arguments simply don't hold up.

The Yale team of researchers asked science professors at a handful of private and public universities to consider the job application of a recent graduate. Each professor was given the same one-page summary of the candidate, but with one key difference: name. In some cases the applicant was named John and in others Jennifer - but the summary of qualifications did not change. And here's what happened:

On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being highest, professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3. John was also seen more favorably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor.

The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508. To John it was $30,328."

The deep bias these researchers identified is shocking and appalling. It shows that, despite women and men entering the workforce on equal footing, prejudice or faulty assumptions can quickly enter into employment decisions - to the great detriment of women's professional and financial prospects. And the pervasiveness of this bias (seen here among highly-educated academic professionals) makes it clear that sporadic improvements by individuals and employers will not be enough to correct the problem.

That's where Congress comes in, and that's why legislation designed to promote basic fairness for women in our workplaces like the Paycheck Fairness Act is so critical.

We cannot continue to let gender bias run rampant in our nation's workplaces, especially in the face of research like this and the increasing importance of women's wages to their families and our economy. It's time to get past the excuses used to justify the unfair and biased treatment of women in the workforce, and to make fixing the problem a priority.


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