Unconscious bias a threat in academic hiring, University of Arizona official warns

He makes sure faculty search committees are aware of the problem
2013-04-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T11:16:27Z Unconscious bias a threat in academic hiring, University of Arizona official warnsTom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Education about unconscious bias is critical to getting more women and minority faculty in science and engineering, said Thomas P. Miller, associate provost for faculty affairs at the University of Arizona.

When Miller meets with faculty search committees about the need to be aware of that bias in hiring, he brings backup - conclusions from dozens of scientific studies over the past two decades that clearly show bias against women and minorities in hiring.

• When researchers submitted two versions of the résumé of an actual psychologist, "Brian" was more likely to be hired than "Emily" for an academic psychology position.

• The same thing occurred in a study on hiring for a clerical position when hypothetical names that sounded African-American were compared to those that sounded white.

• A statistical analysis of symphony orchestra auditions found that women were 33 percent more likely to be hired when a screen kept judges from knowing the gender of the virtuoso.

Bias remains pervasive among male and female science faculty.

A 2012 study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that both female and male faculty routinely gave lower scores and offered lower wages to a hypothetical female applicant for a laboratory-management job than to a male applicant with an identical résumé.

Another study, this one published last fall in the sociology journal "Gender and Society," examined why women gravitate toward biology rather than choose the so-called "hard" sciences of physics and astronomy.

Among more than 2,500 biologists, physicists and astronomers in the nation's top science programs, women were far more likely than men to choose the reason: "Women are discriminated against more in physics than biology."

The low numbers of women in academic physics means it's hard for them to make inroads, said study author Elaine Howard Ecklund, associate professor of sociology at Rice University.

"They think it's because of a tipping point that hasn't been reached. There are not enough women in physics to attract women to physics," Ecklund said.

Associate Provost Miller points to overall improvement in the percentage of minority and women faculty on the tenure track at the UA as evidence that programs to get and keep more women in math and science are working, even if they haven't produced numerical increases in tough areas like physics and engineering.

The percentage of minority faculty, led by a near-doubling of Asian faculty members, grew from 12 percent to 19 percent from 2002 to 2012, with much of that increase coming in science, engineering, technology and mathematics fields, Miller said.

Women increased from 27 percent to 34 percent of tenure-track faculty in that period, reports from the UA Office of Institutional Research and Planning Support show. Improvement in a wide range of science and math fields, Miller said, brought them from 19.2 percent to 24.5 percent over the same period.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

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