Gender bias is a reality that cannot be denied. A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington (UW) provides further insight into the negative consequences of the mindset. The paper is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The scientists surveyed around 1,700 UW biology students enrolled in undergraduate programs who were asked to rate their classmates’ knowledge. It was found that males tend to rank their male classmates as more knowledgeable in terms of the content of their course. They also ascribe this trait to the males against females known to perform better. On the other hand, the responses of the female students show that they displayed no significant bias towards their other classmates.
The team of researchers note that the gender bias is consistent because the males would deem their male counterparts to be smarter than female peers who would be equally performing.
When commenting on the findings, lead author Dan Grunspan points at the “huge inequity” in the mindset of the male students as to the strength of their classmates with respect to the class materials as they would think of the males as being more knowledgeable irrespective of performance.
Another finding is that instructors themselves would consider more males (than females) to be outspoken in class. The male students would also gain more recognition from their male counterparts than the female students. On the other hand, outspoken females that are ranked by males at the same level of a male student are the ones whose performance are much higher than the males’. Co-lead author Sarah Eddy explains that this is equivalent to believing that a female scoring an A is on the same level as a male scoring a B.
As mentioned earlier, females were equitable in ranking their male and female classmates. The female bias was so small that the researchers suggested it might have been caused by chance. In contrast, the male bias was 19 times stronger.
Eddy considers their findings to be troubling because peer support plays an important role in keeping women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. She explains that support from one’s classmates convinces one to believe one can stay in STEM disciplines. The gender bias observed in this study might, therefore, be discouraging women from staying in these fields of study.
The authors admit that tackling the issue of gender bias is challenging. They are currently working on addressing the problem by finding inclusive teaching practices.