This past week, several news sources covered a study out of Cornell that shows a 2:1 preference to hire women faculty in STEM fields. The graph that they produced says it all:
The graph is showing the percentage of male and female voters (M vs F grouping) who voted in favor of hiring a male or female applicant (left vs. right bar within grouping) in each of four fields. As you can see, only in economics do male voters show an equivalent behavior toward both male and female applicants.
When I shared this finding with my friends and colleagues, the knee jerk reaction was to attribute this difference to the current push for women in engineering. Hence, there is an inherent bias toward hiring a female candidate. However, my reaction was somewhat different. I thought that if this bias existed as a way to increase female participation, then it should also exist for every other minority group in the sciences. Meaning, there should be a bias toward any underrepresented group, such as Hispanic, African-American, and others. In order to test this theory, I tried to find data about hiring of minorities and wasn’t able to find any good sources (if you have any, please post in the comments!) However, as a proxy, I was able to find data about the success of grant applications to the NSF based on these criteria:
First of all: amazing data published by the NSF!
Secondly, let’s look at the data over the past decade.
Every year in the published data, Women are the most successful in receiving grants, followed by men, followed by minorities
This is despite the fact that the NSF aims to improve participation from underrepresented minorities in general.
So to me the popular media answer pointing to the current push for women in engineering is not a strong enough explanation. Particularly, an article in Time magazine brushes the discussion aside in a particularly crass fashion saying ‘For years it has been apparent that hiring bias runs in favor of women, not against them. It’s time to shut down the costly diversity bureaucracy and allow faculty to hire on merit alone.’ This is a pretty naive view point! The NSF data shows pretty clearly that there are some underlying advantages that women have, that give them a boost over other underrepresented groups.
In many ways, the real question is, what is it that women are doing better than other groups to obtain this statistically significant level of success? And perhaps more importantly, what can we learn from this?