STEM fields won't achieve gender parity without direct intervention
- Gender parity is "not inevitable" without direct intervention in some professions, new research found. A team of researchers, led by Sara Clifton from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed a new mathematics-based model to study women's rise through professional ranks that factors in the effect of bias and homophily — the penchant to seek out others who are similar to oneself.
- The new model concluded that deliberate action might be necessary to make gender parity happen in various fields, according to researchers. By examining people who apply for promotions and those who grant them, the researchers found that those applying for a promotion sometimes self-segregate. For example, a woman who is interviewed by an all-male panel might feel uncomfortable and apply for a position elsewhere where there are more women.
- The researchers said that fields where homophily is especially strong, such as nursing and engineering, are expected to become male- or female-dominated in the future. But fields with outwardly strong bias against women, such as math, computer science or academic chemistry, might never experience gender parity at the highest levels without external intervention, the research said.
Research by Bentley University's Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business found that women are disappearing from the talent pool.
Researchers speculate a number of factors contribute to the leak, including entry-level women earning 20% less than their male counterparts, women being 21% less likely to be promoted into management, and the bias women face in their mid-careers due to motherhood.
A Lean In.org and McKinsey & Company report found that women who are alone in their departments, on committees or in other work situations are 1.5 times more likely to consider leaving an organization.
This finding ties in with Clifton's research, which concluded that women might be uncomfortable about being the sole female in a work environment and leave a job — or never take a job — as a result.
Clifton said in a statement that the research could help zero in on resources in fields where gender parity is unlikely. "If you can identify what the main bottlenecks are, you can target those bottlenecks to reach gender parity," she said.
Clifton added, for example, that hiring committees could be trained to recognize their unconscious biases against women (though experts have previously warned it can only go so far), or policies could mandate that women are promoted in numbers that match the pool of applicants. She also suggested that in fields with strong homophily, hiring committees could proactively encourage women to apply for promotions or make women more visible in those fields.