Let's talk about the pay gap. Census data show shows that, in 2008, American women still earned .77 cents for every $1 earned by American men. And, while some of this has to do with women working different jobs then men, working less hours, or spending less of their lives moving up the corporate ladder, numerous studies have shown that the disparity still exists even after you've controlled for all those factors, and more. Even in the same job, at the same level of experience, the same education, same race, same hours worked, etc. ... women still earn less than men do.
There's been lots of research aimed at explaining the gap, and it's probably tied to more than one factor. But several studies have shown that unfair bias against women — whether intended or subconscious — is part of it. Last week, researchers at Princeton published a study that showed bias against women in hiring practices within the sciences and hit on some particularly interesting aspects of subconscious discrimination.
The researchers gave the same application materials and resume to two sets of scientists and told the scientists to evaluate the candidate for a position as laboratory manager. Half the scientists got the materials with a male name attached. Half saw a female name. The scientists gave the male name a higher rating on competency, hireability, and their own willingness to mentor "him". They also offered "him" a higher starting salary — $30,238, compared to $26,507 for the female name.
The catch: These trends held regardless of whether the scientist doing the hiring was male or female, and none of the scientists used sexist language or sexist arguments as justification for their decisions. At the Unofficial Prognosis blog, Ilana Yurkiewicz explains why those details are so important:
When scientists judged the female applicants more harshly, they did not use sexist reasoning to do so. Instead, they drew upon ostensibly sound reasons to justify why they would not want to hire her: she is not competent enough. Sexism is an ugly word, so many of us are only comfortable identifying it when explicitly misogynistic language or behavior is exhibited. But this shows that you do not need to use anti-women language or even harbor conscious anti-women beliefs to behave in ways that are effectively anti-women.
Practically, this fact makes it all the more easy for women to internalize unfair criticisms as valid. If your work is rejected for an obviously bad reason, such as “it’s because you’re a woman,” you can simply dismiss the one who rejected you as biased and therefore not worth taking seriously. But if someone tells you that you are less competent, it’s easy to accept as true. And why shouldn’t you? Who wants to go through life constantly trying to sort through which critiques from superiors are based on the content of your work, and which are unduly influenced by the incidental characteristics of who you happen to be? Unfortunately, too, many women are not attuned to subtle gender biases. Making those calls is bound to be a complex and imperfect endeavor. But not recognizing it when it’s happening means accepting: “I am not competent.” It means believing: “I do not deserve this job.”
So how do you deal with subconscious sexism? Yurkiewicz' full post is a must-read, and offers some solutions.
Also check out:
• Physicist Sean Carroll's post on the same study
• The study itself at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
• Wikipedia on male-female income disparity in the United States
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.