Experiment Finds Women Less Likely to Land Math Jobs—Even When They Show and Prove

Test subjects chose men over women for employment

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The employment numbers are echoed year after year: Women are disportionately missing from STEM industries and careers. And the picture for minority women is even bleaker. The National Science Foundation reports that they make up only 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.

Some of this is attributed to low enrollment and completion of STEM degrees and training. But what about discrimination and bias? A recent experiment shines a light on yet another challenge for women in terms of job opportunities and access.

According to research from Columbia Business School, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, women were less likely to be tapped for math-related jobs.

The institutions conducted an experiment in which men and women were asked to complete an arithmetic task (that both genders, on average, perform equally well) as potential job candidates. Other test subjects were tasked with deciding who they would hire. “Our results reveal a strong bias among subjects to hire male candidates,” the researchers indicated. And it wasn’t just men who were biased. Women chose males over females as well.

Findings also indicated that when the test subjects were only shown a candidate’s physical appearance, they were twice as likely to hire a man than a woman, holding the expectation that women would perform worse in solving math problems.

The authors of the research also reported that females were still less likely to be hired even after the candidates told prospective employers how they did on the task “because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it.”

When test subjects who served as prospective employers were given full information about how the candidates did on the math task, impressions improved, but even then bias was evident.