Gender Bias In Academia And Research

Research Overview

The following sections summarize relevant studies on gender bias in science. It is a selection of important study results without any claim to completeness. The sections introduce the respective focal points and briefly summarize the research situation. With a few exceptions, primarily scholars from the Anglo-Saxon world are researching gender bias; most of the research literature is in English.

As an introduction, we recommend the article by Horvath and Blackmore (2021). In their article "Nicht mit ihnen und nicht ohne sie: Implizite Biases in der Wissenschaft," they explain the concept of bias, provide an overview of existing biases, and formulate recommendations for the scientific community. As an English-language counterpart, Llorens et al. (2021) provide an overview of gender bias in academia in the article "Gender bias in academia: A lifetime problem that needs solutions", covering authorship and peer review, citation, funding, teaching, selection processes, conferences, sexual harassment, and family planning. This paper also includes recommendations for reducing gender bias in academia and research.

Letters of recommendation can have a gender bias due to the language used: Women are more often described as community-oriented and communicative. In contrast, men are described as high-performing and decisive. The attributes attributed to women harm hiring decisions. Similarly, women's teaching skills are emphasized in letters of recommendation, while men's research skills are emphasized. Regarding language, letters of recommendation for women also show more frequent use of negative words expressing doubt, less approving words, and negative, inscrutable statements. Also, the proportion of text passages with explicit reference to intellectual brilliance is much lower in letters of recommendation for women than for men.

The following studies have examined gender bias in letters of recommendation:

Gender bias in selection processes occurs primarily because the resumes and performance of women and men are perceived and evaluated differently. For example, an essential study by Moss-Rascusin in which they sent identical resumes with different first names showed that applicants were offered a higher starting salary and participation in mentoring programs more often. Gender bias mainly affects women's early career stages, strongly influenced by group affiliations and academic networks. Crucial are the evaluations by members of selection committees, which can be influenced by gender bias in that they prefer candidates from their own group and network affiliation and generally judge applicants as more capable than female applicants despite identical CVs. Due to gender bias in selection processes, women must present themselves better to receive equal evaluations as men. In this context, gender parity in the composition of selection committees does not automatically contribute to more gender-equal assessments. Women may also be influenced in their evaluations by gender bias.

Studies on selection procedures in science and research are listed below:

Wenneras and Wold's (1997) paper, "Nepotism and sexism in peer-review," was one of the first studies to examine gender bias in research funding and caused quite a stir within the scientific community. The study showed that female scientists received lower ratings than men when applying for research grants at the Swedish Medical Research Council for the same scientific productivity. On the one hand, gender and, on the other hand, the applicant's acquaintance with a committee member significantly impacted funding decisions. It resulted in a favoring of male applicants. As a classic of gender bias research in research funding, this study has been intensely debated. An early study by Ward and Donnelly (1998) reached the opposite conclusion. Their study shows no gender difference for research grants from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

In contrast, the first meta-analysis by Bornmann et al. (2007)  shows that scientists are 7% more likely to be approved than female scientists. A replication of the Wenneras and Wold study by Sandström and Hällsten (2008) showed that female scientists were no longer rated lower, possibly also a consequence of changes in the review system. However, the problem of nepotism persisted. Recent studies contradicting Wenneras/Wold's findings prompted Samjeske (2012) to write a research review. She focused on the German research landscape, especially studies on the DFG, with contradictory results, each depending on subjects, funding years, or funding institutions. A recent study of Löther, Freund and Lipinsky (2022)  on the Humboldt Foundation shows no gender inequalities in the review process but possible exclusionary practices and structures in the run-up to applications and nominations.

A publication by the League of European Research Universities on Implicit Bias in Academia (as of 2018) calculates an EU average of 4 % higher success rate of female applicants compared to male applicants. The EU project "Grant Allocation Disparities from a Gender Perspective" (GRANteD), launched in 2019, investigates the existence of and reasons for gender bias in research funding in Europe. For this purpose, peer review practices within selection panels are scrutinised. In the first study of this project, Van den Besselaar and Mom (2020) find a consistent pattern of gender bias in awarding scores. While there are more reservations against women scientists in the first decision step, resulting in 75% of applications being rejected, gender bias positively impacts women in the second and final decision. The extent to which women are less likely than men to receive research funding depends mainly on the individual panels. The study provides evidence of a relationship between panel composition and lower scores for applications submitted by women researchers.


You can find more studies in our literature database Lit@CEWS with a prepared search query..

Gender bias can occur throughout the publication process, for example, in the selection of reviewers and their evaluation practices, quality assessment, and the perception and evaluation of relevance through citation practices.

Regarding gender distribution in the publication process, Helmer (2017)analysis of the Frontier Journal shows that only 37 %, 28 %, and 26 % of authors, reviewers, and editors were female. In addition, editors* are more likely to choose reviewers* of the same gender. Fox et al. (2016) also point out this homophily: Editors are 5-10 % more likely to select women to review articles than their male counterparts. In contrast, Bransch and Kvasnicka (2017) found for five business journals that the share of articles (co-)authored by women tends to be lower for female editors than for male editors.

Allmendinger and Hinz (2002) found for sociology in Germany that, women have lower chances of publishing a professional article than men. In contrast, Squazzoni et al. (2021) found a higher probability of publication for both women's and cross-gender author teams' manuscripts. According to the authors, one reason for the higher acceptance rate could be that women are generally less likely to publish, and women may put more work into each publication to avoid an expected gender bias. Kranak et al. (2021)also do not find a higher rejection rate for publications by women in their analysis of one journal. The influence of a possible gender bias is shown in a change in the review process. With the shift from a blind review - only reviewers are anonymous - to a double-blind review - also the identity of the authors is unknown -, the proportion of women in the publications of the journal Behavioral Ecology increased by 7.9 %, three times faster than the general increase of female scientists in this field (Budden et al. 2008).

Fox et al. (2016)  find no differences between male and female reviewers in evaluating articles or the rejection rate. In contrast, according to a study by Ortega (2017), women write peer reviews less often than men and accept fewer articles as reviewers, which could indicate higher standards for female scientists. Gender differences in review practices could be related to career stage: Young female scientists* are more critical, possibly because of a more up-to-date overview of the methodology and more significant competitive pressure, and female reviewers are more likely to be at a lower career stage than male reviewers.

Gender bias in citation practices can also lead to discrimination against underrepresented groups. The number of publications and their citation are essential criteria in recruitment procedures and influence whether and how scientists are perceived as experts. Studies by Maliniak et al. (2013) and Knobloch-Weserwich et al. (2013) indicate that articles by female scientists are perceived as less relevant. The latter experimentally shows that articles by male scientists are perceived to be of higher scientific quality, especially for topics with male connotations. Researchers were also more interested in collaborating when the field was male-dominated. West et al. (2013) examine in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities that articles by male first and last authors are cited significantly more often, while articles by solo female authors are cited less often than expected. Chan and Torgler (2020) show that female researchers in mathematics, statistics, engineering, physics and astronomy are the least cited. These results can be seen in a variety of disciplines, for example, in the studies of Dworkin et al. (2020) in neuroscience, Wang et al. (2021) in communication science, Chatterjee & Werner (2021)) in medicine, and Maddi & Gingras (2021) in business and management.


You can find more studies in our literature database Lit@CEWS with a prepared search query.

Few studies addressed gender bias at scientific conferences and meetings. For example, Hinsley et al. (2017) examine who participates in discussions - in the form of questions - at professional conferences. Despite a higher proportion of women among participants, scientists ask more questions than women scientists and thus have more opportunities to shape the discussion. In the case of a competitive situation between a female participant and a male participant who likes to ask a question, scientists were more often selected to be able to ask the question. The gender of the moderator*s did not matterAufenvenne et al. (2021) show gender differences in participation and communication behavior. They confirm that men dominate discussion groups because they speak more frequently and for extended periods. Also, talks by men achieve higher attendance rates due to selective partial attendance behavior by men: Men attend lectures by men more often than by women. Furthermore, women are underrepresented when it comes to leadership roles.

In their study of scientific colloquia at 50 U.S. colleges, Nittrouer et al. (2018) show that female scientists are invited to speak more often than their female colleagues. Female researchers are more likely to be invited to speak only when women are represented on colloquium committees. Dumitra et al. (2019) find that although the proportion of women researchers at medical conferences has grown, they are more likely to be invited as moderators and less likely to be invited as panel speakers and, thus, experts. Larson et al. (2020) reached a similar conclusion in their study. They, too, show an increase in women researchers as participants, but the proportion of women as keynote speakers remains low. Roeser et al. (2020) confirm a significant gender imbalance, particularly in allocating positions of responsibility within conferences, such as presidents or plenary session speakers*. They point out that corresponding tasks are assigned through invitations, indicating gender bias. Roeser et al. (2020) also address gender differences in conference assignments in their qualitative study. Their focus is on conference organisation. They describe creating a pleasant atmosphere as "academic housekeeping" and a gendered task predominantly assigned to women. 


Well-founded findings of numerous studies demonstrate gender bias in evaluations of teachers by students. This gender bias in teaching evaluations becomes relevant for academic careers when female teachers are disadvantaged in application procedures due to the relevance of these evaluations. Not only gender bias but other characteristics of teachers, such as their subjective beauty, influence teaching evaluations, as Hamermesh and Parker 2003 point out in "Beauty in the Classroom: Professors' Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity."

Listed below are studies of student teaching evaluations: