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Eve and Evidence: What Research Tells Us About Gender Equality

09/03/2015 16:31 | Updated 08 May 2015

On International Women's Day we celebrate our solidarity with women around the world -- women who are engaged in many different struggles. And we show our determination to continue working to improve the challenges we face at home.

Gender equality has not yet been achieved in the workplaces of the western world. Research institutions have a special responsibility to contribute to progress. Knowledge gives insight as we identify the challenges that remain; our job is to deliver that knowledge.

How will we know that gender equality has been achieved? One hallmark of true gender equality is that the sex of an employee does not affect processes such as hiring, evaluation, setting salaries, and other processes in the workplace.

Have we already achieved gender equality by this definition? Not by any means!

In honor of International Women's Day, here are a few morsels from the research literature that support my claim that we're not yet where we want to be.

  • In Sweden, researchers studied a selection of post-doc applications and determined that women must have 2.5 times as many publications as a man to be considered equally well-qualified.
  • A project in Spain examined the profiles of men and women who applied for promotion to the rank of full professor. They concluded that the chances for a man to be promoted were 2.5 times the chances of an equally well qualified woman.
  • When around 250 professors at research universities in the United States were asked to evaluate the resumé of a fictitious job applicant, some of them received the CV of hypothetical applicant John while others received the otherwise identical application of hypothetical applicant Jennifer. John received job offers more often than Jennifer and those offers had a higher salary -- and this was from both male and female professors.
  • One research project reviewing evaluations of employees showed that evaluations based on numerical scores were consistently higher for men than for women, but that evaluations based on prose descriptions did not distinguish groupwise between the sexes. .
  • In a simulation asking employers to hire someone to do a job that required skills in mathematics, 90% of erroneous hires -- i.e., hiring a less qualified person over a more qualified person -- consisted of hiring a less qualified man over a more qualified woman.
  • In an online course taught by one man and one woman, students were asked to evaluate the teachers at the end of the course. The students had never actually seen the teachers. When one cohort gave the man better reviews than the woman, the teachers switched their names with another cohort. The result was that the man -- now being presented to the students as a woman -- got worse evaluations while the woman -- now be presented as a man -- got better ones.

It seems as though we are incapable of ignoring the sex of the person we are evaluating -- and this is equally true of evaluations carried out by women as it is of those carried out by men.

It's important to know where we're at and research institutions have a responsibility to communicate knowledge about the status quo to society at large. The researchers who have carried out the studies I've mentioned have done just that.

The next question is why things are like this and what we can do about it. Here, too, there is research on which we can build our policy decisions. The second question in particular -- what can we do? -- defines the work of Norway's Committee for Gender Balance and Diversity in Research, which I lead. Our mandate identifies the following goals.

The Committee shall support and give recommendations regarding measures that promote the integration of gender balance and diversity activities at universities, university colleges and research institutes, thus helping to increase diversity among the staff and in research. The Committee shall seek to raise the overall level of awareness regarding problems related to diversity and inclusion in the research system.

One way in which we do this is through our website. We convey knowledge about measures that can contribute to better gender equality. This includes argumentation regarding the benefits of gender equality and an overview of the relevant legislation.

You can download Talent at stake: changing the culture of research -- gender-sensitive leadership. I hope you'll find time to surf your way to kifinfoeng.no -- I think you'll be both surprised and satisfied.

We have the research. Now we need to act!

 This essay was originally published in Norwegian, as Kvinner og kunnskap, in Khrono, the online newspaper of the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.

This article was originally published on Curt Rice - Science in Balance. Read the original article.

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