terriko: (Pi)
[personal profile] terriko
I've got a year left in my postdoc at the University of New Mexico, which means, sadly, that it's nearly time for me to start getting serious about job hunting. If all things were equal, I'd like to wait longer and spend more time concentrating on my awesome work here or maybe take the time off for open source work that I'd promised myself after my PhD but didn't get, but things are not all equal, and between the constraints of academic calendars, my visiting scholar visa (which can be transferred between institutions but not if I wait too long between jobs) and a few other factors, it's about time to dive into the job search.

One of the nicer reasons to start the job hunt in October is that I'll be attending GHC12 and I'll be able to take advantage of their mentoring sessions and career fair. And it's that job fair I've been thinking about today, because of a recent PNAS study that found that Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Now, as someone who's probably going to interview at some universities, that is one heck of a depressing result to hear just before kicking off a job search.

I've seen a few write-ups about their results on top of reading the paper itself, but this write up from a Scientific American blog is probably my favourite because it doesn't pull any punches:

Whenever the subject of women in science comes up, there are people fiercely committed to the idea that sexism does not exist. They will point to everything and anything else to explain differences while becoming angry and condescending if you even suggest that discrimination could be a factor. But these people are wrong. This data shows they are wrong. And if you encounter them, you can now use this study to inform them they’re wrong. You can say that a study found that absolutely all other factors held equal, females are discriminated against in science. Sexism exists. It’s real. Certainly, you cannot and should not argue it’s everything. But no longer can you argue it’s nothing.

We are not talking about equality of outcomes here; this result shows bias thwarts equality of opportunity.

They controlled for many factors often used as reasons for disparity and gave people identical resumes to evaluate, some with a female name attached, some with a male name. (If this sounds familiar, it may be because a similar tactic was used in widely-reported tests that demonstrated racial discrimination in hiring. I'm pretty sure I've seen similar tests for other types of hiring discrimination too, but this one focused specifically on scientists.)

Interestingly, the discrimination came from women as well as men, and it appears to have been unintentional, perhaps a side effect of cultural bias that ranks female candidates as less competent than males in this area. Which is awfully disappointing, but maybe not surprising to anyone who's done some research in the area. However, that doesn't mean this is a hopeless situation:

I’m willing to bet that many in the study, just like people who take Implicit Association Tests, would be upset to learn they subconsciously discriminate against women, and they would want to fix it. Implicit biases cannot be overcome until they are realized, and this study accomplishes that key first step: awareness.

And here's where I come back to why I'm so excited to kick off my job hunt at the GHC12 career fair: these are companies that have reached the point of awareness that they aren't hiring as many women as they like. So even in the face of research that is pretty upsetting for someone like me just starting on a job hunt, I've still got a nice opportunity to start off with organizations who are aware and actively trying to combat hiring biases.

Not everyone can make it out to the GHC career fair (GHC tickets are sold out!) but you can take a look at the sponsors and the career fair guide and think, "hey, these companies care." It's easy to get inundated with "and now let's thank our sponsors!" moments at a conference, but it's worth recognizing that these companies are demonstrating not only a financial commitment but also a social one when they choose what conferences to sponsor. I like to think that it says something really great when they choose to sponsor the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Date: September 25th, 2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
altamira16: Tall ship at dusk (Default)
From: [personal profile] altamira16
Oh my gosh! That career fair is happening near where I live. I should have known about this.


terriko: (Default)

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