Sexist image of male scientists is wrong

Steve and WendyWendy M. Williams is a professor in the department of human development at Cornell University. She founded and directs the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. Stephen J. Ceci is the Helen Carr professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University. They wrote "The Mathematics of Sex" and edited "Why Aren't More Women in Science?"

Earlier today, struggling with an armful of files, a large computer, and a 10-pound mega-purse, one of us got a steel door in the face when an out-to-lunch undergraduate slammed it. So are Cornell students vacant-minded budding sociopaths? No; nor are most male scientists prone to disparaging talented women working in their labs.

Tim Hunt speaks for a vanishing minority — as is shown by the national data on women in science, which reveal sustained progress.

Tim Hunt made some outrageous statements, but he speaks for a vanishing minority — as is shown by the national data on women in science, which reveal sustained progress. In large-scale analyses with economists Donna Ginther and Shulamit Kahn, we showed the academic landscape has changed rapidly, with women and men treated comparably in most domains. Some differences exist, usually benefiting men when they occur, but they are exceptions, not the rule.

Generally, female assistant and associate professors earn as much as men, are tenured and promoted at comparable rates, persist at their jobs equally, and express equivalent job satisfaction (over 85 percent of women and men rate their satisfaction as “somewhat to very satisfied”). And, importantly, women are hired at higher rates than men.

In 1971, women were less than 1 percent of professors in academic engineering. Today women represent roughly 25 percent of assistant professors, with similar growth in all traditional male domains — physics, chemistry, geosciences, mathematics/computer science and economics. Women in 1973 comprised 15 percent or less of assistant professors in these fields whereas today they constitute 20 percent to 40 percent.

Women prefer not to major in these fields in college (choosing instead life sciences, premed, animal science, social science or law) and women do not apply as often as men for professorial posts. But when female Ph.D.’s apply for tenure-track jobs they are offered these posts at a higher rate than male competitors. This is not obvious because the majority of both men and women are rejected when they apply for professorial positions. But women are usually hired over men.

We recently reported results of five national experiments, demonstrating that 872 faculty members employed at 371 universities and colleges strongly preferred, 2 to 1, to hire a female applicant over an identically qualified man. Even when asked to evaluate just one applicant, faculty rated the woman as stronger. We found this pro-female hiring preference in all four fields we studied and it was just as true of women faculty as men faculty.

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