Center of Excellence Women and Science

Gender Bias In Science And Research

Research Overview

The following topic headings lead to relevant studies on gender bias in science and research. This is a selection of study results, which does not claim to be exhaustive. The thematic arrangement introduces the respective focal points and provides a brief summary of the current research situation. Apart from a few exceptions, research on gender bias takes place in the Anglo-Saxon-speaking world, and most of the research literature is also written in English. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University published an annually updated overview of new studies on implicit bias in “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review” from 2013 to 2017.

Gender bias can be found in letters of recommendation: Women are usually described as community-oriented and communicative, while men are described as powerful and decisive. The attributes for women have a negative effect on recruitment decisions. Similarly, teaching skills of women are emphasized in letters of recommendation, while in those of men their research skills are emphasized. In terms of language, letters of recommendation for women also show the use of numerous negative words that express doubts, generally less recognition of words that pay tribute, and negative, unfathomable statements. The proportion of text passages with explicit reference to intellectual brilliance in letters of recommendation for women is also much lower than in those for men.

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

In search processes, the assessment of women’s CVs is marked by gender bias, so that women must present themselves much better in order to receive assessments that are equivalent to those of men. The initial career stages of women, who are strongly influenced by group affiliations and academic networks, are particularly negatively influenced by gender bias. The members of search committees are also subject to gender bias by preferring candidates from their own group and network and generally judging male applicants to be more capable than female applicants despite identical CVs. In addition, male applicants are offered a higher starting salary and more frequent participation in mentoring programs. A gender-equal composition of the search committees does not automatically contribute to assessments free of gender bias. Rather, there is a more pronounced gender bias among female members of the commissions with regard to salary and mentoring offers. The higher number of publications by male applicants is also rated more positively than the quality of publications in the search process, which is to the disadvantage of female applicants who publish fewer publications. With regard to the citation rate of publications, studies also show higher quality ratings of publications that were (allegedly) written by men. The attractiveness of entering into collaborations with male authors is also greater by far than with female authors. Studies on search processes in general are listed below:

Frequently cited studies on gender bias in the evaluation of publications can be accessed by clicking on the links below:

The study “Men and women of the corporation” published by Rosabeth Moss Kanters in 1977 is regarded as the basis for further research on the phenomenon of homosociality, which describes the preference for similar people and the orientation of the members of this social group towards each other. In search processes at universities and research institutions, this behavior leads to the recruitment of applicants who appear to be similar in appearance, behavior and certain social categories, such as gender and origin, and thus reproduce a certain type of management and staff. This phenomenon, also known as the mini-me effect and homophily, increases with growing hierarchical and leadership levels and is an explanatory approach for the still effective glass ceiling, which denies women access to top positions and leadership levels. Evidence-based studies exploring mini-me effects in application and recruitment processes are still largely pending. Studies like „Homophily in higher edcuation” refer to the phenomenon homophily, but don’t analyze how homophily is generated.

In the business sector introductory texts can be found on the German platform Anti-Bias and on company pages. The literature study “Intergroup Bias” by Hewstone, Rubin and Willis presents the current results in the research field of intergroup bias, defined as the systematic upgrading of one’s own group members, and identifies future research fields and strategies to reduce intergroup bias.

In teaching and research, there are substantiated findings from bias research that prove gender bias in evaluations of teachers by students and in applications for research funding, in general. Numerous studies also prove gender bias in teaching evaluations by students, which discriminate against female teachers due to the relevance of these evaluations in application procedures and questions the use of teaching evaluations in recruitment processes. All in all, gender bias is detected in the reviewers themselves, in evaluation criteria, above all in the criterion of “scientific excellence of the researcher”, as well as in research funding procedures. Not only bias based on gender, but other characteristics of teachers such as their subjective beauty influence doctrinal evaluations, as Hamermesh and Parker argue in “Beauty in the Classroom: Professors’ Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity” (2003).

The following is a list of studies on teaching evaluation by students:

The study by Wenneras and Wold “Nepotism and sexism in peer-review” (1997) is considered a classic in the field of research on gender bias in research funding. It was intensively discussed and partially refuted. The LERU Advice Paper refers to success rates in the EU which are on average 4 % higher among male applicants than among female applicants for research funding. Similarly, studies find that male applicants are more positively assessed than female applicants despite applications of the same quality.

The EU project “Grant Allocation Disparities from a Gender Perspective” (GRANteD) will analyze the occurrence and causes of gender bias in research funding in Europe. A main objective of the project is to develop a sound methodological approach that is able to handle the complex nature of the problem under investigation.

Below is a German-language research overview of studies on gender bias in the evaluation of research achievements and proposals, research funding and financing, as well as other important studies in English on the topic:

There is a gap in research on (gender) bias in the performance assessment of students by lecturers; only a few studies are available: In the study “Visibly Invisible: Stigma and the Burden of Race, Class and Gender for Female Students of Color Striving for an Academic Career in the Sciences” by Bowen (2009), interviews with students of color are analyzed from an intersectional perspective and the interdependencies of race, gender and class are shown. Milkman, Chugh and Akinola point out bias of professors in relation to those interested in a doctorate in “What Happens Before? A Field Experiment Exploring How Pay and Representation Differentially Shape Bias on the Pathway Into Organizations” (2015). Mischau's study “Wahrnehmung, Reproduktion und Internalisierung von Geschlechterasymmetrien und Geschlechterstereotypen bei Mathematikstudierenden” (2007) investigates discrimination experiences of mathematics students by teachers and students in everyday interactions and in different mathematics courses.