Another Diversity Double Standard?

Inside Higher Ed reports on
a new study that
analyzes what its abstract calls “gender bias” in the top ranks of
STEM fields. It found that one explanation — that women publish less — is true
but suggests “that women may be publishing less than men because
departments are not providing them with the same resources.”

The
study found that “researchers who have already received more institutional
support are able to secure even more research resources” and that
“historically female faculty members have received less institutional
support and have had less access to research resources.” What’s not
clear, however, is the presence of “bias.” What if initially fewer
women received support because fewer applied or because their credentials were
less impressive than those of men applicants? The study appears to assume equal
availability and equal qualifications.

Inside
Higher Ed
 also referred to another study that found that
“scientists (male and female alike) evaluated male candidates for jobs
more favorably than female candidates — even when presented with identical
materials about the candidates.” It is thus likely that those just
starting their careers encounter bias, according to Luís Amaral, a
professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern, “even if
those doing the judging don’t intend to be biased.” 

Does
anyone ever “intend to be biased”? In any event, according to
the obviously well-intentioned Prof. Amaral, “[e]ven if you try to be
enlightened, there is the weight of our culture to giving more resources to
men.” I’m not sure the evidence cited here, however, is sufficient to
prove that endemic bias pervades our culture. Might there not be something like
a “reverse diversity” bias showing up in what is presented as this
preference for males with equal credentials?

Recall
that one of the most popular justifications for preferring minorities or poor
applicants is that they deserve credit for overcoming barriers that do not
block others, a justification that has become especially prominent in the
justification for preference based on socio-economic status. “[S]imple
discrimination seems to have become a relatively smaller obstacle over the last
few decades,” the New
York Times
 reported recently,
“while socioeconomic disadvantage has become a larger one.”

Perhaps
“simple discrimination” by both male and female scientists explains
why they prefer male to equally qualified female job applicants, but has anyone
considered the possibility of a “reverse diversity backlash” against
the expensive major national effort over the past decades to draftlure, induce, persuade more women into the STEM fields and to nurture them while they’re there?

Just
asking. But if overcoming the obstacles of an absence of encouragement,
targeted financial aid, and continuing support can be considered justification
for extra credit for some minorities, then perhaps they can be as well (even if
subconscious and hence “unintended”) for the largest
minority group
 in
college today, men.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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