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National Hiring Experiments Reveal 2:1 Faculty Preference for Women on STEM Tenure Track

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National Hiring Experiments Reveal 2:1 Faculty Preference for Women on STEM Tenure Track

Wendy M Williams et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

National randomized experiments and validation studies were conducted on 873 tenure-track faculty (439 male, 434 female) from biology, engineering, economics, and psychology at 371 universities/colleges from 50 US states and the District of Columbia. In the main experiment, 363 faculty members evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical female and male applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships who shared the same lifestyle (e.g., single without children, married with children). Applicants' profiles were systematically varied to disguise identically rated scholarship; profiles were counterbalanced by gender across faculty to enable between-faculty comparisons of hiring preferences for identically qualified women versus men. Results revealed a 2:1 preference for women by faculty of both genders across both math-intensive and non-math-intensive fields, with the single exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Results were replicated using weighted analyses to control for national sample characteristics. In follow-up experiments, 144 faculty evaluated competing applicants with differing lifestyles (e.g., divorced mother vs. married father), and 204 faculty compared same-gender candidates with children, but differing in whether they took 1-y-parental leaves in graduate school. Women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers; men preferred mothers who took leaves to mothers who did not. In two validation studies, 35 engineering faculty provided rankings using full curricula vitae instead of narratives, and 127 faculty rated one applicant rather than choosing from a mixed-gender group; the same preference for women was shown by faculty of both genders. These results suggest it is a propitious time for women launching careers in academic science. Messages to the contrary may discourage women from applying for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) tenure-track assistant professorships.

Keywords: faculty hiring; gender bias; hiring bias; underrepresentation of women; women in science.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Hirability of identically qualified candidates with matching lifestyles shown by field: percentage of faculty members ranking the applicant number one. Faculty members exhibit approximately a 2:1 preference for hiring women assistant professors over identically qualified men. Faculty members of both genders in all four fields expressed a strong hiring preference for female over male applicants with identical qualifications and lifestyles, compared across faculty in six counterbalanced experimental conditions (n = 339: 171 women and 168 men; χ2 = 40.38; P < 0.0001, excluding tied ranks and choice of foil), with the exception of male economists, who ranked both genders equivalently. Engineering data include validation sample of 35 engineering faculty.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Percentage of female applicants chosen over identically qualified men with matching lifestyles, shown by lifestyle. Percentage of faculty members who preferred to hire the female applicant over the identically qualified male applicant with the same lifestyle, shown for six different lifestyles [n = 339; all preferences for women over men are significant with the exception of that for mothers with spouses running home-based businesses, with significance levels ranging from z = 2.23 (P = 0.025) to z = 3.18 (P = 0.0013)].
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Hirability of identically qualified candidates with different lifestyles: percentage of faculty members ranking the applicant number one. In a comparison between a divorced mother and an identically qualified traditional father with a stay-at-home wife (both with two preschoolers), female faculty members chose the divorced mother 71.4% of the time and the traditional father 28.6% of the time, revealing a significant preference for divorced mothers (n = 28; χ2 = 5.14; P = 0.036). In contrast, male faculty members chose the traditional father 57.1% of the time and the divorced mother 42.9% of the time (n = 35; χ2 = 0.71; P = 0.50). Male and female faculty members showed significantly different preferences for married fathers versus divorced mothers (n = 63; χ2 = 5.14; P = 0.04). In a separate condition, a comparison between single, childless women and traditional fathers showed that single, childless women are strongly preferred by both genders of faculty, independently and with both genders combined (aggregate n = 32 women and 37 men; total = 69; χ2 = 17.75; P < 0.0001).
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Effect of 1-y parental leave on hirability: percentage of faculty members ranking the applicant number one. Male faculty members preferred mothers who took 1-y parental leaves 65.9% of the time over identically qualified mothers who did not take leaves, chosen 34.1% of the time (n = 44; χ2 = 4.45; P = 0.049). In contrast, female faculty members showed the reverse (nonsignificant) trend, choosing mothers who did not take leaves 62.2% of the time over mothers who took leaves, chosen 37.8% of the time (n = 45; χ2 = 2.69; P = 0.135). Male and female faculty members showed significantly different preferences for mothers who did versus did not take parental leaves (n = 89; χ2 = 7.05; P = 0.01). Neither female nor male faculty members exhibited a hiring preference regarding fathers’ leave status, with values ranging between 46.4% and 53.6% (n = 56 women and 45 men; total n = 101).

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