How Gender and Race Stereotypes Impact the Advancement of Scholars in STEM: Professors’ Biased Evaluations of Physics and Biology Post-Doctoral Candidates

Intersectional stereotypes about gender and race hinder the advancement of women, Latinx people, and African Americans in STEM.

Introduction

STEM fields produce some of the United States’ most influential leaders, but are not representative of the nation’s diverse populace. Frequently, women, Latinxs, and African Americans are stereotyped as being less competent in this field. Across all science and engineering departments at American colleges and universities, women compose only 42.5% of assistant professors and 24.5% of full professors. Meanwhile, Latinxs and African Americans made up less than 1% of STEM faculty in 2015. However, previous research evaluating these gaps has primarily focused on stereotypes about a single social identity, without fully exploring the impact of intersection¬ality – the ways that multiple forms of discrimination, like sexism and racism, can overlap and compound.

The current study examines how intersecting stereotypes about gender and race influence STEM faculty perceptions of post-doctoral candidates in the United States. Biology and physics professors were asked to read one of eight identical CVs depicting a hypothetical doctoral graduate applying for a post-doctoral position in their field, and rate them for competence, hireability, and likeability. The name on the CV was used to indicate that the candidate was male or female and Asian, Black, Latinx, or White. The authors looked at whether professors would display biases against female, Black, and Latinx candidates – particularly Black and Latinx women. The authors also evaluated whether gender biases would be stronger in the physics department, as it is a more male-dominated field compared to other STEM fields.

Findings
  • Evaluations of post-doctoral candidates in STEM were influenced by gender and racial biases, moderated by academic department. Male candidates were favored over female candidates, and Asian and White candidates were favored over Black and Latinx candidates. Overall, female candidates were rated as less competent than male candidates (6.66 vs. 7.18 on a 9-point-Likert scale), and less hirable (5.89 vs. 6.48). 
    • Physics faculty rated female candidates as less competent than male candidates (6.21 vs. 7.46), and less hirable (5.08 vs. 6.93).
    • Biology faculty rated male and female candidates as similarly competent and hirable.
  • Across all departments, female candidates were rated as more likable than male candidates (6.29 vs. 5.88).
  • Across all departments, Black and Latinx candidates were rated as less competent than Asian and White candidates (Black: 6.32; Latinx: 6.65; Asian: 7.29; White: 7.42).
  • Overall, Black and Latinx candidates were rated as less hirable than Asian and White candidates (Black: 5.62; Latinx: 5.69; Asian: 7.04; White: 6.64). 
    • Biology faculty rated Black candidates as less hirable than Asian candidates (5.73 vs. 7.14).
    • Physics faculty rated Black and Latinx candidates as less hirable than Asian and White candidates (Black: 5.44; Latinx: 4.22; Asian: 6.86; White: 6.92).
  • Physics faculty rated Black women, Latinx women, and Latinx men as the least hirable compared to all others (Black women: 4.29; Latinx women: 3.87; Latinx men: 4.67; all others: 5.93-7.42).  Professors’ evaluations of post-doctoral candidates exposed a gender bias in physics, a racial bias in both physics and biology, and compounded gender and racial biases in physics. These findings shed new light on the unique challenges faced by women of color pursuing careers in STEM.
Methodology

Using a fully-crossed, between-subjects experimental design, this study was modeled after landmark studies done on job discrimination in evaluation of CVs, in which the applicant’s name on a single CV varied while all else was held constant. For this study, 635 professors from eight large, public U.S. research universities were mailed surveys and study materials, with a response rate of 39.37%. The 251 study participants, including 157 biology professors (35% female) and 94 physics professors (10% female), read one of eight identical CVs depicting a hypothetical ambiguously-qualified doctoral graduate applying for a post-doctoral position in their field, and rated the candidate for competence, hireability, and likeability. The candidate’s name on the CV was used to manipulate race (Asian, Black, Latinx, and White) and gender (female or male), with all other aspects of the CV held constant across conditions. 

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