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in brief: women in science treated differently

women science

Being a woman in the sciences is tough. According to researchers at Ohio State University if you’re a female researcher, chances are people will think less of your work and be less interested in collaborating with you.

In the study, 243 communication graduates (70% of which were female) from around the US students evaluated research abstracts, presented as written by male or female authors. Participates judged these abstracts on their rigorousness, competence, influence, importance and innovation, as well as its overall quality and publishing potential.

Both male and female participants declared the work of male authors to be higher quality.

Lead author of the study, Silvia Knoblock-Westerwick, believes the finding is important as it took little to prompt the bias.

‘The participants were reading abstracts of 150 words or so and rating their quality. The author names were not displayed prominently and the grad students probably barely glanced at them — but still they had this effect,’ she said.

The abstracts were also gendered. This led to participants deeming some subjects more appropriate for women – say, parenting or body image – while areas like political journalism are better left to men.

The appropriate gender writing in the appropriate field led to more interest in collaboration. Crossing into another gender’s ‘field’, a man studying body image, led participants to declare the study less scientifically valid. It seems that fitting in with societal expectations increases the likelihood that people will want to work with you.

Participants also did a questionnaire on gender equality. People who supported equality were more likely to rate female-authored abstracts highly.

‘This suggests that the favouritism for male authors is at least partially the result of conservative gender norms,’ said Knoblock-Westerwick.

You can read more about this study at the Ohio State University website.

By Cory Zanoni


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