A new study has shown that men are more likely to be involved in decision-making and work with other men, which contributes to gender bias in the sciences.
Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) looked at how scientists’ perceptions influence their decisions about who is suited for specific jobs within scientific organizations. Their findings show that personal preferences towards certain people cause scientists to favor hiring or collaboration with those who share similar characteristics, even when these choices are not based on merit.
“The issue of the low proportion of women in senior roles is an ongoing debate,” says Dr Michael Herley from UQ’s School of Economics. “Our study suggests a reason why this imbalance occurs: there is a tendency by individuals to hire others like them.”
“The problem is that when people hire in their own image, the opportunities for women to enter and advance diminish. Our study suggests a way to break this circle,” he added.
In two studies, researchers manipulated participants’ perceptions by changing how they learned about other scientists’ achievements or personality traits. They found that when scientists were presented with evidence of high achievement in a candidate who was familiar to them, they were more likely to perceive the candidate as having a highly suitable personality for a job in research, compared to when they evaluated an unfamiliar candidate.
Likewise, if scientists initially perceived someone to have a highly suitable personality for a scientific role based on their work, then perceived that same person as being even more capable after learning about how well they had done in the role, they were more likely to recommend them for a position.
“Despite evidence of bias against hiring women, we did not find evidence that men and women candidates who were perceived as similarly competent but differed in their personal characteristics (e.g., gender) received different evaluations,” said lead author Dr Sanda Erdelez from UQ’s School of Economics. “A preference for working with people like oneself drives the tendency to hire others like oneself.”
The researchers suggest that senior scientists could overcome these biases by thinking about how new hires might contribute to diversity within their laboratory or research group. This may be particularly important where such groups are comprised entirely of one gender, which often happens when there is a preference for hiring people like oneself.