There’s evidence that minority candidates are judged more harshly in professional and academic settings. While that’s due to several factors, research continually singles out implicit bias as the leading culprit.
But a new study offers a handy workaround: remove names and any other gender-revealing cues from an application, and bias is nearly eliminated.
These findings emerged after the Hubble Space Telescope Time Allocation Committee (HST TAC) noticed a gender gap in acceptance rates among scientists asking to use the Hubble Telescope.
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A sample of 15,545 applications shows only 3,533 of the proposals had a female lead researcher. Male-led studies had an acceptance rate of 23 per cent, while female-led studies had an acceptance rate of 19 per cent.
HST TAC recruited Stephanie K. Johnson and Jessica F. Kirk from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business to analyze the applications and identify weak spots in the grant process.
Female-led proposals rated worse
Johnson and Kirk found male reviewers in the HST TAC committee were giving female-led proposals “significantly worse” ratings than male-led applications, so they stripped the proposals of personal information.
Then, in a process known as “dual-anonymization”, applicants were asked to write proposals using language that would make it difficult for the committee to identify them.
Women out-performed men
When the proposals were anonymized, Johnson and Kirk found female applicants slightly out-performed males.
Make no mistake: It’s disheartening that in some instances, flat-out bias is the sole barrier to career advancement. But shedding light on a glaring problem is important, and it’s often the first step toward dismantling an unfair set-up.
Female scientists less likely to receive funding
In their paper, Johnson and Kirk argue that dual-anonymization could be an effective tool for any industry that’s plagued with gender inequity.
For example, it would likely level the field in Canada, where an October 2019 study found that female scientists are significantly likely to receive research grants and personnel awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research when compared to males.
“Until now, there hasn’t been a lot of data on whether it works or not,” Johnson said.
“What this shows is that taking gender out of the equation does allow women to perform better.”
Header image courtesy: ESA/NASA