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You are reading: Study claiming gender equity in science, technology, maths doesn’t reflect real life

Written by Maggie Hardy, The University of Queensland, for The Conversation

You may have heard about a study released last week with headlines like, “Study finds, surprisingly, that women are favored for jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM),” or “Women best men in STEM faculty hiring study.”

As has been previously pointed, out, this research may not be relevant in Australia. Further, the study’s methods have been pointed out as flawed for, among other things, the people who undertook the survey, its hypothetical nature and its controlling for bias.

The study, looking at hiring preferences for researchers applying for tenure-track assistant professorships across a variety of disciplines, found:

a 2:1 preference for women by faculty of both genders across both math-intensive and non–math-intensive fields, with the single exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers; men preferred mothers who took leave to mothers who did not.

This study doesn’t represent what happens in the real world. Rather, it’s what a self-selecting group of faculty who took the survey would do if they had the opportunity. In a perfect world, we would all hire the best candidate; unfortunately, that’s not the world we’re working in, and there is always a committee with which to contend.

What the gender breakdown really looks like

Although undergraduate and early-career researchers are reaching gender equity in the biological and health sciences, math-intensive fields like chemistry, engineering and physics lag behind.

Nearly 40% of women engineers in the United States leave the field after earning an engineering degree; a survey in the UK showed only 12% of women chemists want a career in research after earning a PhD in chemistry.

Another study showed 60% of women engineers leave the field because they are dissatisfied with pay and promotion.

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