Less women promoted within hiring committees skeptical of gender bias

Women are less likely to be promoted within hiring committees who are skeptical of external barriers they may face, new research suggests.

A group of researchers at the University of British Columbia based their findings on decisions initiated by 40 hiring committees tasked with filling research placements within the National Committee for Scientific Research (CNRS). The findings were published in Nature Human Behavior.

“Whether gender bias contributes to women’s under-representation in scientific fields is still controversial. We examine the interactive effect of explicit and implicit gender biases on promotion decisions made by scientific evaluation committees representing the whole scientific spectrum in the course of an annual nationwide competition for elite research positions,” according to the findings.

At the start of the study, researchers utilized an implicit association test to identify how confidently hiring committees associated men with science. The computer-based test involved matching words to particular categories and was conducted in conjunction with the CNRS.

Among members of both genders within the hiring committees, they consistently showed science as a primarily male-associated field. “We learn associations from what we see in our environment. If we don’t see a lot of women who are role models in science, then we learn to associate science more with men than women,” said Toni Schmader, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Next, researchers carried out a survey on whether women working in science-based occupations were affected by discrimination and family constraints. A portion of committee members brushed aside these issues, while others acknowledged them.

The findings showed that women were less likely than men to be promoted among committee members who deny the existence of any gender bias. Committee members synchronized with external barriers women might face was associated with overcoming their male counterparts during hiring decisions.

“Our evidence suggests that when people recognize women might face barriers, they are more able to put aside their own biases. When committees believed that women face external barriers, implicit biases did not predict selecting more men over women,” said Schmader.

“This finding highlights the importance of educating evaluative committees about gender biases.”