Our February Newsletter  article Women in Leadership: More Facts and Misconceptions spoke of “some evidence of a societal shift”  on gender bias. Unfortunately, there is some more recent evidence of a distinct lack of shift in some Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

A 13 May 2015  article in The Conversation, Sexism in science: one step back, two steps forward describes how “Two postdoctoral researchers took to the internet last month after having their research paper rejected for publication on laughably sexist grounds.”

The author, Emma Baitz, notes “The sound of foreheads being slapped rung out across the globe. The internet was ablaze with righteous feminist fury, collegiate sympathy and words of support.” In this case, the result was that  “PLoS One has since sincerely apologised, sacked the reviewer, sent the manuscript to a new editor and called for the resignation of the Academic Editor who handled the review.”

Emma looks at the brighter side: “This incident confirmed two things for me: first, that sexism is alive and well within the scientific community; and second, that we’re making progress in its rectification.” The article gives a range of links on the reasons for bias and on progress, including a link to the substantial 2012 European Commission Meta-analysis of gender and science research. That Report gives “a comprehensive view of the experience and practices in Europe and abroad amassed over the last thirty years.”

A separate discussion of STEM gender bias comes in an April 20 2015 Slate article “A Surprisingly Welcome Atmosphere”, subtitled A vaunted new study says women have it easy in STEM fields. Don’t believe it.

The author, Matthew R. Francis, is scathingly sceptical of research which purports to show  “a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere today for female job candidates in STEM disciplines.”  The researchers created imaginary job candidates for entry-level faculty positions, then surveyed faculty members in four disciplines, finding roughly a 2-to-1 preference for hiring the female candidates over the male candidates. Matthew notes that ”Nature, the Washington Post, Inside Higher Ed, and other outlets ran largely uncritical stories about the study, while CNN published an op-ed by Williams and Ceci themselves to advertise their work.”

Matthew  then notes that , “Unfortunately, the study contradicts every other study about the problems women face in academia—and what’s more, their own research doesn’t back up their conclusions.” He goes on to give details of the flaws in the research and to provide links to other recent research which contradicts the conclusions.

Matthew’s own conclusion is: “The unpleasant truth is that women face a lot more challenges in STEM than university hiring practices. Williams and Ceci cloud the issue, both by their methodology and by their conclusions, which are contradicted by other research. We need to confront biases head on if we’re to fix the problem of sexism in STEM, a problem we can’t simply explain away with surveys and op-eds.”