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Sep 20 2012

What’s in a name

Sean Carroll points out a study of gender bias among scientists.

To test scientists’ reactions to men and women with precisely equal qualifications, the researchers did a randomized double-blind study in which academic scientists were given application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position. The substance of the applications were all identical, but sometimes a male name was attached, and sometimes a female name.

Results: female applicants were rated lower than men on the measured scales of competence, hireability, and mentoring (whether the scientist would be willing to mentor this student). Both male and female scientists rated the female applicants lower.

Not at all surprising, alas. I’m sure I have the same bias.

I’m especially interested that it’s Sean Carroll who points it out, because it was Carroll who said, in that chat about why so few women in atheism on The Point last month, that the goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. I sighed at his production of that particular bromide because of exactly this problem of unconscious bias, which renders formal equality of opportunity worthless.

I wonder if Paula Kirby will see this study, and if so, I wonder if it will prompt her to have second thoughts about her “just try harder” version of feminism. The problem it indicates is precisely why I’ve all along found her version to be surprisingly naïve.

If you want to get your blood hotter, read the comments by “TW”…The first, for instance:

I would argue that experienced researchers use all information available, and sex is additional information in two ways:

1) The woman on average worked harder to get the same qualification, leaving a man with a greater potential for growth.

As mentioned before, women are more conscientiousness. Across my student years, many just got better marks, because they did homework well and studied more regularly. Even though some got better marks than myself for example, I always felt they were closer to their limits.

I recently had a class reunion where I discussed with a female school friend who was the No 1 math student why she never did math at university and “just” became a middle school teacher. I told her: Why did you never do it? You were better than me! She said: No I was not better than you, but I worked so much harder and regularly.  I felt my limits. But you were just totally lazy, disorganized and de-focused and still passed!

2) Women get pregnant. This is a real disadvantage and risk for any project leader. I witnessed myself that a project leader hired a woman with all good intentions, but she got pregnant just after, promised to keep working, but then left. His project was delayed significantly and he said “never again”.

So given the same qualifications, I would rationally go for the man.

Yay. Conscious bias.

64 comments

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  1. 1
    Anonymous Atheist

    Plenty of other issues there, but I think the point that irritates me the most is the ‘never hire a woman because some women might get pregnant at an inconvenient time’. Not that any woman should be discriminated against like that, but particularly for the women who have no plans/desire to get pregnant and are taking measures to prevent it, or are physically unable to get pregnant, or are not in or looking for a heterosexual relationship, to be passed over for a job because of some jerk’s concern that doesn’t even potentially apply to them is particularly galling… >:(

  2. 2
    AndrewD

    I belive the “woman may get pregnent” argument would be de facto Sex discrimination under English Law

  3. 3
    Leo Buzalsky

    Carroll said…that the goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. I sighed at his production of that particular bromide because of exactly this problem of unconscious bias, which renders formal equality of opportunity worthless.

    And my thought then and now is that saying something should be a certain way is not necessarily the same as saying that that way is even possible. But I do grant it would be helpful to add a qualifier of “In an ideal society…” or something to better hint at the idea that the desirable state is not practical. (I also must admit that if that desirable state is not practical, then he probably shouldn’t call it a “goal,” if that is indeed the term he used…so, yeah, I’m talking myself out of my own argument a bit while writing this reply. :) )

  4. 4
    blorf

    Women worked harder to get here, so they deserve it *less?* Given two otherwise identical applicants, the one who overcame greater resistance should have an edge. Who would you want on your crew, someone who is here because it sounded like a good idea or someone who fought tooth and nail to get here?

  5. 5
    Kausik Datta

    Good grief! Upon Sean’s comment thread have now descended activists for Men’s Rights, Asians’ Rights, folks mansplaining and whining endlessly how they are right to keep Teh Wimminz out of, and away from, professional considerations, and how any study that doesn’t fit neatly into their black-and-white worldview must be fraudulent (and ‘Stalinist’, whatever that might be)…

    I felt nauseated.

  6. 6
    Martha

    Gotta love TW: “I was actually smarter than all those girls who out-performed me in math.”

    Why do these people confuse stroking their own egos with rational arguments?

    This study does bring up a really important point: that both men and women discriminate to the same extent. We all have to work to compensate for our bias, and it’s not easy.

  7. 7
    iknklast

    People who say this is just about professional qualifications, people working harder, or maybe getting pregnant and screwing things up by being gone at an inconvenient time ought to look at this fact:

    In playwrighting, a play with a woman’s name on it as writer will get looked at only 17% of the time compared to a man. The above arguments of TW do not fit here. There is no reason to think a woman worked any harder at writing the play, which is done typically within an insulated setting in one’s own home or work space, and not in an academic setting. If the woman gets pregnant while the play is running, it will have no impact at all, because the woman has already written the play, and it won’t change anything if she happens to get pregnant. But the bias still operates. It’s just bias, plain and simple.

    Of course, the real factor is that people assume plays written by women will be about women (and they may be), and also assume that plays about women will have no draw because they do not interest men. For instance: a man I was talking to at a recent theatre conference wanted to know what the next play was about to decide if he would watch it. I started out “It’s about these three women…” He stopped me, and declared himself uninterested, and he was going to go elsewhere for the morning. Now turn that around. Imagine I started off with, “Well, there’s these three men…” and stopped. Everyone would say go on, what about them? Because that sentence can go anywhere. It’s assumed that the one about the women can go only one place – to the kitchen (or some equivalent chocolate-eating, soap-opera watching, baby-incubating space).

    By the way, the 3 women? Medea, Cassandra, and Clytemnestra. Fascinating play about fascinating women, and I don’t feel sorry for the fact that this man missed it. He deserved to miss this wonderful play, written by a woman about women but for everyone.

  8. 8
    A. Noyd

    If he figures the ability to get pregnant poses such a risk, I’m sure the oh-so rational TW only hires/promotes men who’ve already had their appendixes removed, right?

  9. 9
    Sean Carroll

    Hi Ophelia–

    My feeling is that, if there are systematic biases against women, then we clearly don’t have equality of opportunity. I want actual equality, not just the appearance thereof. Of course, how best to achieve that equality is a separate and crucial question, but as we see from the comments not even this very basic claim is agreed upon.

  10. 10
    julian

    I will be forever grateful to Cordelia Fine for pointing out so many studies like this in Delusions of Gender (and Ophelia for pointing me in that direction). I don’t doubt the bias is still very much there but now that I’m aware I likely have it (and how likely my standards are to shift between men and women) I can work towards countering it.

    Women get pregnant.

    Some women get pregnant. And some men get them pregnant. Why are the responsibilities of men seen as less demanding than those of women during childcare? Obviously if the pregnancy was a difficult one he will have to be on call for his family. If it was an easy one he still has to be there while his wife heals.

    And he still has to be there to provide for the child as the mother may very well pursue a career of her own. And then there’s the cooking, the cleaning, the PTA meetings.

    I certainly hope you don’t mean to suggest these are the mother’s responsibility.

    And what about lesbian couples?

  11. 11
    screechymonkey

    I wonder how many of the subjects in the study insist that they “don’t see gender.”

  12. 12
    oolon

    But you were just totally lazy, disorganized and de-focused and still passed!

    This bullshit amongst a lot of bullshit stood out, I spent a long while thinking I should not try hard at academic work. You would be either good at it ‘naturally’ or not. A particular friend totally fucked me over that – he constantly appeared to do no work and get great grades – I later found out he was working his arse off and desperately hiding it to not get bullied for trying too hard. Whereas in the girls it was expected they would work hard and be conscientious. An example of sexism screwing the male sex as well :-)

  13. 13
    julian

    I wonder how many of the subjects in the study insist that they “don’t see gender.”

    In Delusions of Gender Dr Fine points out that often the most clear cut cases were among people positive they held no personal bias. >_>

  14. 14
    adriana

    There was a similar study showing the importance of names with respect to ethnic identity, at least for African American vs white: http://www.chicagobooth.edu/capideas/spring03/racialbias.html

    I’m sure we all have unconscious biases. It’s something that can be addressed with education and with self-awareness. Obviously, rationalizing your bias so that it becomes conscious and “justified” is not the way to do it. Yes, “TW”‘s rationalizations does make my blood boil.

    As a scientist, I did experience or witness quite a few instances of unconscious, and conscious bias. When I was a post-doc, I got pregnant with my first child and my mentor got furious at me. It’s no wonder some women feel they need to leave science or at least take a break. I’m faculty in a very good research institution and raised two sons (as a joint project with my husband). I have a solid publication record. I’m glad the first time I was hired as faculty the search committee overcame the bias against scientists who are also mothers; the first position paved the way for the rest of my career moves. But I know for a fact that some chairmen do not hire women of childbearing age. It is against the law, but so hard to prove! And nobody wants to initiate a law suit. It’s easier to find another department with less or no bias. It’s sad, but pragmatic.

    To me, equality of opportunities means nobody should pre-judge on the bias of race, gender, or parental status. We made progress, but we are not there yet.

  15. 15
    Nepenthe

    As mentioned before, women are more conscientiousness.

    It was interesting. In high school, I was a pretty lazy git, academically. I turned in my work, but it wasn’t done neatly in pretty pens. My projects and presentations were, in a word, atrocious. I rarely paid attention in class often reading, doodling, or staring off into space rather blatantly.

    When it came time to write recommendations, my teachers still wrote down that I made my academic achievements (perfect test scores, first in a large class, etc.) through conscientiousness and hard work. Because women are like that, amirite? We’re not “naturally talented”, just good little workers.

    *spits*

  16. 16
    besomyka

    I want to point out that the opposite of what that quoted commenters said is actually true. When the stereotype bias/pressure is removed both men and women perform better, but the increase is larger for women than for men.

    Because of stereotype bias, the women that succeed are actually performing well below their true ability.

    Given two identical resumes, if I really were to take gender into account, I would think that there’s a good chance that the female candidate would be better if and only if my workplace was a comfortable one in which people of any and all genders can reach their true potential.

    Oddly enough, one of the things that improves that situation is gender parity in the workplace. It’s a sort of self-correcting problem.

  17. 17
    Corvus illustris

    The pattern that TW gives in

    I recently had a class reunion where I discussed with a female school friend who was the No 1 math student why she never did math at university and “just” became a middle school teacher. I [asked] her: Why did you never do it? You were better than me! She said: No I was not better than you, but I worked so much harder and regularly. I felt my limits. But you were just totally lazy, disorganized and de-focused and still passed!

    –as distinct from his gender-based interpretation, and extrapolation far out of the range of relevance– is entirely familiar to university math faculty, both (in US terms) at the passage from K-12 to university and at the passage from undergrad to grad school. Students who have done well by working hard drop out and students who were just coasting suddenly find that they have the knack. Whatever his anecdote shows, it isn’t a statistic (nor would be any I that could give), and only his bias makes it relevant to gender.

  18. 18
    Ophelia Benson

    Hi Sean – Thanks for replying!

    I take your point. I think, though, that people think of equality of opportunity as things like being allowed to interview, and equality of outcome as things like trying to correct for bias.

    Everyone else – whaddayou think? Is that what the phrase means to you? “Just give everyone equal access, don’t try to fiddle with the results of equal access”? Or what Sean meant? He meant the opposite of what I heard, and I’m wondering which is more usual.

  19. 19
    dshetty

    2) Women get pregnant. This is a real disadvantage and risk for any project leader.
    I have heard this many many times in the IT programming world too and it is frustrating.
    Your project leader is incompetent – people get sick , ill , quit whatever. if you are dependent on any resource being there all the while you aren’t a good “leader” or “manager”.

    Besides some fathers like to take as much leave as they can to support their family through a very trying time.

    So screw the disadvantage and risk and stop looking for excuses to justify your bias.

  20. 20
    Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل)

    “Even though some got better marks than myself for example, I always felt they were closer to their limits.”

    even when they get better grades, women still can’t win. charming.

  21. 21
    dshetty

    Is that what the phrase means to you?
    Its what I took Sean’s phrase to mean (but then we have a high opinion of him) – I do use it in the same way Sean does but I know that other people use it differently (usually in arguments over reservations in India)

  22. 22
    smrnda

    I think a similar effect was seen on resumes that had names which *sounded* like they might be African American in terms of how often they got a response, so biases are probably affecting a lot of candidate evaluation.

    A person I know once suggested that a good way to avoid this problem was to assign candidates numbers so that names aren’t visible, but there’s a lot on a curriculum vitae that could give clues as to the identity of a person anyway, so I don’t think that’s actually going to be workable.

    Another area of study that I haven’t seen as much work in is studying people who display biases – if you have a man who is consistently evaluating female candidates more poorly than equivalent male candidates, find out what’s influencing him. I’m thinking this could be difficult because many people don’t want to admit to a bias, or they don’t even think they have one and would be ashamed to have it pointed out, and they might behave differently if they knew what was being investigated.

  23. 23
    screechymonkey

    Ophelia@18: I’ve always interpreted the phrase the way Sean is.

    Which does make “equality of outcome” a bit of a straw man, because I don’t know of anyone who really believes that everyone should receive exactly the same income, etc. regardless of effort or ability. There is no real debate between “equality of opportunity” and self-identified champions of “equality of outcome”: everyone claims that what they favor is the former and what they oppose is the latter. (See also “political correctness” and “judicial activism.” I suspect that “gender feminism” is similar, but I’m not familiar enough with feminist literature to say.)

  24. 24
    Ophelia Benson

    Huh – that’s interesting. Maybe I’ve misunderstood it all this time…I thought it meant a libertarian or free market version of equality of opportunity.

  25. 25
    Hein

    Not that my opinion counts for anything, but fwiw I had the same interpretation as you, Ophelia. To me equality of opportunity means everyone is allowed to participate, equality of outcome means everyone has to run the same distance and jump over the same number of hurdles. In other words, people of equal ability/qualification have an equal chance at the same outcome.

  26. 26
    noelplum99

    Ophelia

    Everyone else – whaddayou think? Is that what the phrase means to you? “Just give everyone equal access, don’t try to fiddle with the results of equal access”? Or what Sean meant?

    I don’t really know what ‘equal access’ entails but I am quite clear what equality of opportunity means.
    What could it mean other than the only factors open for discriminating between applicants are those which are relevant for the role? For the vast majority of employment roles ones sex/race/gender etc are of no relevence whatsoever.
    Therefore, candidates who are identical in terms of relevant factors should experience identical success (statistically) irrespective of their irrelevant characteristics. Clearly, as Sean has shown here, equality of opportunity was far from present in this case because a wholly irrelevant factor (sex) prejudiced applicants.

    I take your point. I think, though, that people think of equality of opportunity as things like being allowed to interview, and equality of outcome as things like trying to correct for bias.

    The problem with equality of outcome is not trying to correct for bias per se but the following two issues (imo):
    1) It is often very difficult to know what is bias and what is not. There is absolutely no reason to expect that men and women would be, at the statistical level, identical in their profile of skills nor in their predispositions towards certain types of career. Therefore, countering a percieved bias may, if the bias does not exist, actually consist of adding an unnecessary source of discrimination where none previously existed.
    2) Equality of outcome can lead to unhappiness all round for the sake of ideological goals that benefit no-one. If, for example, in the name of equality the subject of engineering is oversold to women in a bid to equalise the numbers of women and men on engineering courses (driven by the baseless assumption that mens greater interest in the field must be entirely culturally derived) then who benefits?
    i) Is it the woman pushed into a field she wasn’t particularly keen on in the first place, when there were other equally high status career choices she would more readily have chosen?
    ii) Is it the man who was very keen to take an engineering subject but just missed out on a place because a number of slots were reserved for affirmative action measures?
    iii) Is it the institution and the potential future employee who end up with an individual whose heart isn’t entirely in the field (and has effectively been used as a statistical pawn)?

    I humbly suggest that no-one benefits. We need to accept that there is every likelihood that some areas are innately more attractive to one sex or the other and that there are some areas that one sex may innately excel at slightly more than the other.

    So the problem with equality of outcome is that unless both sexes are statistically equal in all skills and predispositions we have no idea what equality of outcome would even look like!

    My suggestion?
    - Keep working on equality of opportunity.
    - Accept that biases are still alive and kicking and do whatever we can to educate people where suspected biases exist; and remove as many potential opportunities for bias as possible.
    - Realise that differences in preference between the sexes is liable to be a mixture of natavistic and cultural factors. Consequently, work towards reducing the cultural factors (such as stigmatising boys who DO want to play with dolls or girls who DO want to play rough and tumble) but don’t hold to the tabula rasa perspective and expect this to mean as many men will want to be nurses as women and as many women wiil want to be firefighters as men. It may not happen.
    -Promote occupations to groups not usually associated with those occupations in ways that do not oversell but encourage applications from those who DO want to apply – even if it happens to be true that innate factors will ensure that men will never be quite as keen as women, statistically, in the field of nursing, we should endeavour to make those men who are as keen feel just as enabled to apply as any woman would.
    -Don’t engineer outcomes. People are individuals and apply for jobs as individuals. if the net result of millions of individual decisions is that fewer men than women take up midwifery, or fewer women than men drive oil tankers then let us not assume something MUST be wrong and something MUST be done.

    Ophelia, equality of opportunity means a whole lot more than just being ‘allowed to interview’ (as you suggest many think), it means looking totally beyond factors like sex and ethnicity (outside of acting roles etc); it means the process being blind to such things. So when you said this in your original blog:

    I’m especially interested that it’s Sean Carroll who points it out, because it was Carroll who said, in that chat about why so few women in atheism on The Point last month, that the goal should be equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. I sighed at his production of that particular bromide because of exactly this problem of unconscious bias, which renders formal equality of opportunity worthless.

    My thoughts are that what Sean was describing with the science applications was as far from equality of opportunity as it is possible to be.
    In a bid for fairness we may need to work towards equality of opportunity but at least that is possible to do; working towards equality of outcome can never be claimed as a bid for fairness because equality of outcome itself may, for all we know, be an outcome only attainable and sustainable through unfair means that may benefit no-one.

    Shit I wrote way more than I intended here (what a boring bastard I am!),
    Jim (np99)

  27. 27
    noelplum99

    Screechmonkey @23

    Which does make “equality of outcome” a bit of a straw man, because I don’t know of anyone who really believes that everyone should receive exactly the same income, etc. regardless of effort or ability.

    In that sense I think it would be a strawman because I don’t think that is an argument anyone is making.
    In my experience ‘equality of outcome’ is almost always used in statistical contexts. As a goal it means that the outcome amongst one group will mirror the outcome amongst another group.
    It assumes either:
    i) All groups in question possess the same average skills and desires as one another or
    ii) Differences do exist but these are culturally imposed phenomena that we can and should overcome.

    By way of example, if you think back to a couple of years ago when there was an experiment with female golfers playing in male tournaments.
    Equality of opportunity would mean the best golfers get to play in the top tournaments regardless of sex and whoever wins wins
    Equality of outcome would assume that there is no physiological reason why men should outperform women at golf and no psychological reason why men should desire to play golf competitively more. Therefore any discrepancy between the numbers of male and female golfers getting in those top tournaments and winning those tournaments must be the result of discrimination along the lines with the obvious implication that we need to do something to redress the balance.
    I hope that example shows why equality of outcome may not always be the best approach (I will be honest, I don’t think it ever is).

    Jim (np99)

  28. 28
    noelplum99

    whoops, cocked up the old formatting gthere, sorry!

  29. 29
    bad Jim

    Yeah, the comments there were about what you’d expect. I even stuck in my oar.

    Equal opportunity is a nice idea, but in practice it means evaluating people without knowing who they are (auditioning behind a screen, refereeing works with identifiers stripped away) which isn’t generally workable. Teachers have to interact with their students and managers with their employees, and so far there is no magical method for consciousness-raising that makes prejudice go away.

    Equality of result is obviously unfair, especially in a small groups with uneven distributions. Nevertheless, bias is so pervasive that it’s worthwhile to promote any woman or minority of exceptional promise if only to counteract that bias. White male privilege harms everyone when it shrinks the talent pool. Plus, it’s actually a lot more fun to work with a diverse group of people.

    Omigod! Affirmative action! Sure, at least a little bit. First the Supreme Court, then the Presidency.

  30. 30
    oursally

    Getting pregnant; here in Germany parents can share parental leave. When my kids appeared this was rare and my man was only the second in his company to do it. These days young parents find it quite normal that the father should take half of the leave. Many of my younger colleagues do this and German industry is not collapsing.
    So that’s one excuse that can’t use any more.

  31. 31
    oursally

    I have to confess a few years ago I went to have a key cut and there was a woman behind the counter. To my shame I didn’t say, “Can you cut me a key?”, but “Can someone cut me a key?”. And she cut me a key there and then. And I spent the rest of the day feeling, quite rightly, ashamed of myself.

  32. 32
    Timon for Tea

    I think, certainly in the UK, that Sean Carroll’s understanding of ‘equality of opportunity’ is the more common one, otherwise we would not have legislation such as the sex discrimination act which forbids considerations of sex or sexuality in employment decisions.

    I would like to know whet the value of significance is in this study. Does anybody know? I can only read the abstract.

    The question of rational discrimination against women in employment shouldn’t be dismissed as quickly as some have on this thread. I agree it is a different matter from the one being studied in the paper, which draws out subconscious prejudices (although the two may be linked in a society that forbids open discrimination against women), but it is true that on average women are more expensive as employees, and the more skilled the work, the more significant this disparity is. The NHS in the UK has had to drastically increase its staffing budget as the numbers of women doctors increases, for example. The reason is the obvious one: a large number of women take leave for child birth and rearing. When you are making hiring decisions without perfect knowledge it is rational, to some extent, to play the percentages: hiring a man with similar qualifications to a woman is often a safer bet economically. The reason we shouldn’t shy away from these facts is because if we do not admit them, and keep them in the open, we will not be able to create the policies that will counteract them. The only way to deal with hard economic facts is with hard economic policies such as subsidising women’s employment to compensate for employers’ risk. This is what happens, effectively, in the NHS and it works for women, but it is a difficult argument to make in the private sector and elsewhere. Because it is hard, I think some progressives wish it away, and that is a mistake. It must be dealt with head on.

  33. 33
    Svlad Cjelli

    Hmm, should I hire the candidate who works hard and gets results, or the one who is lazy, disorganized and de-focused?

    Decisions, decisions.

  34. 34
    Matt Penfold

    About 10 years there was a paper published in the BMJ that showed otherwise identical applications for doctor posts in the NHS were more likely to be successful if the name was one that is typically Anglo-Saxon as opposed to one that is typical of an ethnic minority.

    As a result it is now considered good practice in the public sector for applications to have personal details removed before being passed to those who will decide who to call for interview.

    Esmail A, Everington S: Racial discrimination against doctors from ethnic minorities. BMJ 1993; 306: 69

  35. 35
    noelplum99

    Matt @33

    Of course, for those who favour equality of outcome some kind of prejudice along those lines would have to actually be sanctioned, in a bid to hire a respresentative number of white doctors and reduce the numbers of asian doctors down to representative levels. Personally, this is far from something I would like to see, if asian communities are keener to go in to medicine then so be it, go for it!

    I do wonder if some of the bias against ‘foreign sounding’ doctors is for just that reason: they are ‘foreign sounding’. The NHS has long imported doctors to work here from other countries and the issues is not ethnicity here but simply a language barrier issue and I have been in situations where a nurse is more or less interpreting the very thickly accented garbled english for me or whoever I was with. So maybe non-anglo-saxon named doctors are getting tarred with the same brush a bit here, totally unfairly I’d agree, and this is at least one source of the prejudice?

    Jim (np99)

  36. 36
    mnb0

    “Not at all surprising, alas.”
    I would have been surprised if it were not the case. Being a (male) teacher physics and maths this has bothered me since I became qualified in 1989. I do my best and fortunately my pupils are not afraid of criticizing me on points like these.
    The idea that I could have put down pupils because of unconscious bias scares me the pants off.

    “So given the same qualifications, I would rationally go for the man.”
    Now this is a classic example of a non-sequitur. Based on two samples, which actually contradict each other. I cannot help but admiring this in a cynical way.

  37. 37
    Timon for Tea

    “About 10 years there was a paper published in the BMJ that showed otherwise identical applications for doctor posts in the NHS were more likely to be successful if the name was one that is typically Anglo-Saxon as opposed to one that is typical of an ethnic minority.”

    Although, interestingly, it seems that it is the first name that counts not the family name, so Hakizimana Mbeki would be passed over but Kevin Mbeki not, which seems to indicate that it is some shared cultural aspect that is being discriminated for rather than race as normally understood.

  38. 38
    soren

    “White male privilege harms everyone when it shrinks the talent pool.”

    No, wasting resources on peoples with lesser natural talent shrinks the talent pool.

  39. 39
    Trends

    Several women in my work entourage are en maternity leave. and while taking coffee with a couple of a male co-workers several weeks ago, one complained about hiring women who always end up getting pregnant and going on maternity leave for a year.

    I looked at him and told him it was necessary otherwise we wouldn’t have anyone around to fund our pensions.

    I beloieve in hiring women and I believe in generous maternity leave programmes. There should be no strings attached.

  40. 40
    Timon for Tea

    “I believe in hiring women and I believe in generous maternity leave programmes. There should be no strings attached.”

    The trouble is that there are strings attached for the employers: it is more expensive (on average) to employ women and so it is asking employers to behave irrationally to be gender-blind. This is a problem for the reason you suggest but also from basic principles of egality, but it can’t be wished away and the legal bludgeon as currently existing is too crude.

  41. 41
    noelplum99

    Timon

    so Hakizimana Mbeki would be passed over but Kevin Mbeki not

    I’d have to call Kevin Mbeki for interview just to see what walked through the door. He sounds like some kind of Nigerian chav!

    Agree with the hrust of your points on the costs of maternity leave and I think more taxpayer funded support for employers needs to be made. Women need to be supported and encouraged to balance their careers with starting a family (and not feel the two are incompatible) but not price younger women out of employability. More funding via the state is a tought pill to swallow in these economic times but i think it needs to be done.

    Jim (np99)

  42. 42
    Timon for Tea

    ” More funding via the state is a tought pill to swallow in these economic times but i think it needs to be done.”

    It can be done, to some extent by extending privileges to men, such as extended paternity leave, which means that the risk of employing a man is increased and there is slightly less to choose between a man and a woman in terms of risk. It doesn’t deal with the problem of women dropping out of the workplace for extended periods though, and that is likely to be a bigger problem in times of economic uncertainty.

  43. 43
    skeptifem

    @40

    The trouble is that there are strings attached for the employers: it is more expensive (on average) to employ women and so it is asking employers to behave irrationally to be gender-blind.

    except for that whole paying-women-less-on-average thing, right? I haven’t seen any evidence about wage discrimination vs maternity leave (something that isn’t actually offered everywhere to begin with) as a cost factor.

    also, your reasoning results in discriminating against people with chronic illness and disability too. You can’t say that its irrational to expect companies to take care of female health conditions because of cost without explaining why we should expect companies to pay for *any* medically costly condition. You haven’t explained what the difference is, or why the cost should be considered in the first place. There are many businesses that would save money doing things that are wrong; they aren’t defended if they decide the cost is more important than behaving ethically.

  44. 44
    SallyStrange

    Since when is it rational to punish the 50% of the human race who are capable of making more humans for doing so?

    Women who get pregnant are doing extra work that benefits all of us.

    They should be compensated for their labor and difficulty, not punished for it.

    People who think it’s rational to punish working women financially should be aware that they are advancing a viewpoint that is firmly rooted in sex prejudice, for without sex prejudice it would be impossible to dismiss pregnancy and childbearing as a worthless waste of time which is rightfully unpaid, rather than what it really is: difficult and demanding work that benefits society.

  45. 45
    SallyStrange

    And, Ophelia, for the record, my reading of “equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome” is the same as yours: a libertarian/Republican dogwhistle that means that once de jure discrimination is eliminated, we shouldn’t bother working on eliminating de facto discrimination.

  46. 46
    Timon for Tea

    “There are many businesses that would save money doing things that are wrong; they aren’t defended if they decide the cost is more important than behaving ethically.”

    I wasn’t offering a defence, just trying to articulate the problem. If we assume that people are behaving out of irrational prejudice when in fact they are not we will mis-diagnose the situation.

  47. 47
    Stephanie Zvan

    Last time I pointed out to someone that he might want to be careful with “equality of opportunity”, as it is a libertarian dogwhistle, he just took the whistle off and went full libertarian.

  48. 48
    Ophelia Benson

    Jim @ 26 -

    equality of opportunity means a whole lot more than just being ‘allowed to interview’ (as you suggest many think), it means looking totally beyond factors like sex and ethnicity (outside of acting roles etc); it means the process being blind to such things.

    Yes but the process isn’t blind to such things. It takes active tinkering to make it blind, and active tinkering is often seen as attempting equality of outcome. I think that’s why “equality of opportunity” is seen as a libertarian dog whistle.

    This exchange (including and especially Sean’s post) has taught me that plenty of people don’t mean that by the phrase, which is useful to know.

    our sally @ 31 – well that kind of thing is why I say I’m confident I have the biases too. I’m always catching myself hearing or reading “the judge” or “the doctor” and then being surprised by a female pronoun. It’s just automatic, and it drives me nuts.

  49. 49
    Ophelia Benson

    The “equality of outcome” part is also a dogwhistle, via reductio ad absurdum. It pretends the idea is to have exactly the correct (demographic-mirroring) proportions in all fields no matter what.

  50. 50
    Timon for Tea

    “active tinkering is often seen as attempting equality of outcome. I think that’s why “equality of opportunity” is seen as a libertarian dog whistle.”

    A lot of libertarianism is weak at recognising coercive forces outside of state agencies but there is nothing in libertarian theory that would necessarily stand in opposition to addressing things like cultural prejudice as limits on freedom. We need a ‘left libertarianism’. Not sure how that would combat unconscious prejudice, but I am not sure how state actions could either.

    I take ‘equality of outcome’ to mean the application of quotas, and I think that is what is generally meant over here at any rate. If it doesn’t mean that, doesn’t it just assume that there would be no natural, or elective sex disparities once barriers to women’s participation have been removed? That’s not very likely is it?

  51. 51
    noelplum99

    Ophelia @48

    Yes but the process isn’t blind to such things. It takes active tinkering to make it blind, and active tinkering is often seen as attempting equality of outcome.

    I think we agree on almost everything there. Processes appear generally NOT to be blind and measures are required to work towards that.
    I have no issue with tinkering, but there is tinkering and there is tinkering. As Timon suggested (i think) removing names and personal details off applications forms is one such measure is as formalising assessment procedures to take personal judgement out of the equation in matters where it isn’t necessary. However, fudging and skewing results in an attempt to engineer an outcome is an entirely different form of ‘tinkering’ (or as happened in my field (fire service), in an effort to recruit more women and other underrepresented groups, reducing the physical requirements to a level where they hardly differentiated applicants at all and then not allowing candidates to excel at that part of the process (a better balance has been struck now)).
    Jim (np99)

  52. 52
    Arty Morty

    With respect to gender, I prefer to emphasize equality of outcome over equality of opportunity. Depending on your interpretation, I suppose the two can amount to basically the same thing. (Maybe the way Sean Carroll sees equality of opportunity is the same way I see equality of outcome, for example.)

    But a problem with the emphasis on opportunity over outcome (as I see the terms) is that it can mislead us into presuming there’s equity in an outcome even when there’s inequality in the numbers — that a given field of work can maintain an unequal gender ratio and still be considered equitable and fair. Under the equality of opportunity ‘model’, a gender imbalance in a given field is by default innate or natural — or at least reasonable — until proven otherwise. If, say, there’s a scarcity of women in engineering, the presumption is that women just “naturally” don’t want to be engineers. (noelplum99 argues just that, upthread.) Bias is addressed only on a case-by-case basis; if a rigorous double-blind study reveals a specific kind of bias against women in a given field, we’re instructed to tailor some kind of special adjustment to compensate for that bias — problem found; problem solved.

    I think the burden of proof should be the other way ‘round: given how much we know about humans’ ability to hold biases, the default assumption should be that a shortage of women in any field is caused by an underlying bias somewhere in the system. Equality of opportunity alone doesn’t acknowledge that whenever the outcome is a less-than-50/50 man/woman ratio, there’s most likely still a problem hidden somewhere that needs to be found and solved. For example, a libertarianish type could call himself a firm believer in equality of opportunity while at the same time chalking up the lack of women in science to “gender-innate” proclivities or aptitudes without substantial evidence to back up his beliefs. (See noelplum99, again.)

    In other words, the best way to ensure equity for women is to emphasize equality of outcome: we should strive for equal gender representation — and compensation — in all fields of work, making exceptions only in cases where a proven, justifiable reason is known. This involves more than just offsetting the biases that women who’ve already entered into male-dominated fields contend with; I see equality of outcome as including things like outreach and education to break down gender stereotypes and encourage more women to consider male-dominated fields (and vice-versa). As I see it, equality of opportunity alone doesn’t necessarily address such things, or at least, it doesn’t overtly address them.

    “Outcome equality” and “opportunity equality” are somewhat fuzzy terms; I understand that in politics at large, “outcome equality” has the connotation that every individual should have roughly the same material wealth (sort of like communism). But I’m not arguing for outcome equality between individuals here; I am arguing that the outcome between genders should be equal. If work opportunities in any given field are equally shared between men and women, we should expect the outcome to be an equal distribution of men and women throughout the workforce, and equal compensation for equal work.

  53. 53
    Didaktylos

    But without proportionality of outcome, how can you be sure there is “equality of opportunity”?

  54. 54
    eric

    1) The woman on average worked harder to get the same qualification, leaving a man with a greater potential for growth.

    WTF? Thoughts are not a fixed resource. You do not run out later in life just because you had too many in high school. What a maroon.

    Arty Morty:

    But a problem with the emphasis on opportunity over outcome (as I see the terms) is that it can mislead us into presuming there’s equity in an outcome even when there’s inequality in the numbers — that a given field of work can maintain an unequal gender ratio and still be considered equitable and fair.

    The presumption has a rational basis: that random distribution is not the same as even distribution. In an unbiased system, we should expect to see some uneven concentrations of one sex when the data is divided by field or by level of expertise (or any other way; slice job data by the letter they start with, and one or more of your 26 categories will likely have an uneven distribution of men and women). The dreaded cancer cluster, as it were.

    Having said that, however, we should not expect lots of huge, persistent deviations. If you look at 100 job categories and find one has 55% men in 2012, that is not in itself a reason to suspect bias in that category. But if you find that 40 of those 100 categories maintain a 70/30 ratio across decades, then there’s definitely trouble in river city.

    Of course right now, we are in the latter situation, so worrying we might ‘overcorrect’ for some random fluctuation is pretty silly. We should work to correct observed imbalances because we have good historical reasons to attribute them to bias. If we ever get to a point where it is hard to separate the bias from the statistical fluctuations, we should probably celebrate. We are definitely not there yet.

  55. 55
    noelplum99

    Arty Morty @52

    Interesting read.
    You refer to my post a couple of times so i hope you don’t mind me clarifying a couple of bits and makking a couple of points in return?

    Under the equality of opportunity ‘model’, a gender imbalance in a given field is by default innate or natural — or at least reasonable — until proven otherwise.

    I think there is a huge difference between those two positions you have bundled together there.
    A gender imbalance may be reasonable or may not be and I think the important point with eq of op is that we don’t have to try and prove whether the imbalance is reasonable and what a reasonable outcome ought to look like. With respect to an imbalance being ‘natural’, I think we need to be careful of commiting a naturalistic fallacy here. In some cases, let us accept (for the sake of argument) that an imbalance IS natural but that does not mean we ought not to try and redress it. it could be that in some circumstances redressing an imbalance aids society, and all individuals involved, in other circumstances it may simplly mean shoehorning people into roles they don’t especially desire just to aid out socio-political goals. Which leads me on to this:

    If, say, there’s a scarcity of women in engineering, the presumption is that women just “naturally” don’t want to be engineers. (noelplum99 argues just that, upthread.)

    Simply no. That wasn’t what I had said. My point is specifically that we don’t make presumptions:
    - do not presume women are innately less interested in such disciplines
    - do not presume women are innately equally as interested in such disciplines.

    With eq of outcome you have to make some sort of assumption and we really have no grounds on which to make those assumptions. The point of eq of opp is that you do not; you level the field as much as in humanly possible (both at the point of employemtn and beyond, and in opening up childrens and societies horizons beforehand) and then let people make the choices they WANT to make.

    I think the burden of proof should be the other way ‘round: given how much we know about humans’ ability to hold biases, the default assumption should be that a shortage of women in any field is caused by an underlying bias somewhere in the system.

    Of course if you work from eq of outcome you have to make these assumptions. I have two points to make here:
    - I don’t know of any other simian where males and females appear to display identical preferences and behaviours (not to say there are none, but I know of none)and these seem especially pronounced in the great apes (having read a fair bit of Frans De Waals on ape behaviour). Couple this with the obviously different natural capabilities of men and women (women to bear children and breastfeed, men with greater strength and hunting potential) and, form an apriori perspective, why wouldn’t you expect to see innate differences in male and female average preferences and abilities?
    - I spent some time since I read your reply earlier (on my smartphone at work) trying to think of a single measurable factor where female and male populations show the same average value and the same spread of values. I couldn’t think of one.
    So it seems to me that you must make two huge assumptions here:
    i) that although all measurable factors show such a difference, for some unexplained reason, we shouldn’t expect to see the same in unmeasured/unmeasurable factors
    ii)That of those factors which are measurable we should, for whatever reason, assume that all the differences are down to culture/nurture, and therefore not innate*, excepting those that are demonstrably innate (height, bone density etc)

    I cannot see any good reason to hold to either of those assumptions

    *- just to note that even nurture could conceivably have a genetic element. If reproductive success for males and females depends on different factors then there is your selction pressure in a nutshell for parents to evolve innate tendencies to treat boys and girls differently and encourage them in ways which will make them reproductively successful men/women. Though this is not to say that this isn’t one such example of something ‘natural’ that we may well wish to actively rail against since most of what it involves is likely to be irrelevant to our civilised way of life.

    To go back quickly to your ‘bias somewhere in the system’. Answer me this one. Steven Pinker outlines the statistics for m/f in his field of neuroscience and it is male dominated. However, in his speciality of linguistic neuroscience he is something of a rarity – his discipline is dominated by women! So like Pinker states, what you are having us believe is that neuroscience departments discriminate wholesale in favour of male applicants, except the in linguistics where they are prejudices against male applicants and favour female candidates. Does that sound likely to you or could it just be that the general female interest in language (what is it, women speak about twice as many words, on average, than men; women take more modern languages at school; women dominate departments like human resources that are communications fields etc) is greater than mens?

    For example, a libertarianish type could call himself a firm believer in equality of opportunity while at the same time chalking up the lack of women in science to “gender-innate” proclivities or aptitudes without substantial evidence to back up his beliefs. (See noelplum99, again.)

    You accuse me here of not having evidence, but evidence for what? I am not claiming that women are innately less interested in science,all I am saying is that there is no reason to discount the possibility (which you do). With eq of opp you don’t need to know the ‘golden outcome’ in advance because you let people choose their careers as individuals and if that means that women flock to science and 90% of scientists end up as women then so be it!

    Equality of opportunity alone doesn’t acknowledge that whenever the outcome is a less-than-50/50 man/woman ratio, there’s most likely still a problem hidden somewhere that needs to be found and solved.

    So how does that work in practice? Let us say we decide that there is no overriding reason why midwifery should be female dominated (in the UK there are 35,038 female midwives and 134 male) and we intend to make the profession 50/50. So how the hell are you going to do this without forcing men into an occupation they clearly generally have no interest in and in doing so ruining the potential careers of thousands of young women who would give their eye teeth to be a midwife, sacrificed on the alter of statistical equality?

    It seems to me that when you apply for a job you apply as an individual. As a little case study, If I apply to be a firefighter (no need irl, I already am) and end up not getting selected, even though I was in the top candidates, because places have been reserved for female applicants, how is that fair? You apply as an individual and it is no solace to know that others of the same sex are well represented in that occupation if you yourself have been cast aside in some crusade to balance representation: men do not take their pay packets home and divvy them up with other men; women do not take their pay packets home and divvy them up with other women.
    Fire services are overwhelmingly male because the vast majority of applicants are male and a greater percentage of the young male population can make the physical requirements than the young female population. There is no ‘bias’ in any of that, in fact fire services in the UK have fallen over themselves the past 15 years to recruit more women but still the vast majority of applicants and successful applicants are male. there is simply no fair was I can foresee of making the brigades of the UK 50/50 short of literally accepting every woman who applies and rejecting 99% of the male applicants (last application run we got 2000 applicants for 20 jobs).
    Now where I DO agree is that we need to make girls and boys, women and men feel equally sure that if they have the skills there is a place for them in the UK fire service. Indeed, culture on fire stations has changed immeasurably in my 18 years here and the three ladies that are operational at my fire station love the job and have as much of a laugh at work as anyone else. But there is a limit to what can be done and a limit to, I contend, what should be done – pusing people into roles to fit stats is a fools game.

    Interested in your thoughts,
    jim (np99)

  56. 56
    Ophelia Benson

    The point of eq of opp is that you do not; you level the field as much as is humanly possible (both at the point of employemtn and beyond, and in opening up childrens and societies horizons beforehand) and then let people make the choices they WANT to make.

    Yes. But we haven’t done that yet. That means we shouldn’t treat the subject as if we had already done that.

    In STEM fields, for instance, it’s worth making a lot more effort to do that than has been made so far, because those are important, valuable, rewarding fields to be in. There’s a psychologist here at the University of Washington doing research on why women stay away from computer science, and she’s finding that it’s not nearly as simple as just each woman not wanting to do computer science.

    It’s complicated, so we’re nowhere near a level field yet.

    And this “shoehorning” thing is nonsense. The idea isn’t to force people into fields, it’s to remove barriers to even considering the fields.

  57. 57
    Arty Morty

    Rereading what I wrote before, I think my wording was too strong, esp. in the “50/50-gender-ratio-everywhere” part. Nervous newbie commenter that I am, I over-edited it, and with each successive pass I strengthened the wording to the point that, on reading the final product with fresh eyes the next day, I think I took the point too far.

    But I stand by the gist of my point: we should be much more skeptical w/r/t big gender imbalances where there’s no clear explanation. I think gender bias ultimately plays a role in most cases.

    noelplum99, I think you’re leaning too heavily on assumed biological differences to explain gender imbalances. It smells like difference feminism and it gets my guard up.

    Take healthcare for example: nurses skew female; surgeons skew male. Those jobs are in the same field so I doubt that innate differences account for the slant. Sexism is the likelier cause. Where others might think, nursing = nurturing = female; surgery = methodical = male, I think, surgeons = power, prestige and pay; nurses…not so much. Or education: teachers vs. principals: same thing.

    As for Steven Pinker’s field (psycholinguistics / neurolinguistics), that’s a good example of my point: I can imagine many bias-related explanations why that field is female-dominated. A perception that it’s a “softer” science (and therefore less appealing to men) is one. I’m not sold on the innate-female-tendency-towards-language explanation. I also don’t think the skew results from discrimination against men within the department.

    As for midwifery: that’s an example of a job where a gender skew is understandable. Perhaps firefighting, too. (Physical requirements, etc.)

    btw, I just googled “difference feminism” and the top result after Wikipedia is a decade-old B&W post. You’re google-famous, Ophelia! Now I’m going to go read that old article of yours…

  58. 58
    Ophelia Benson

    Ha! Which is all the more ironic because the Atheism+-haters pretend to think I’m a “radfem”…

  59. 59
    Aratina Cage

    btw, I just googled “difference feminism” and the top result after Wikipedia is a decade-old B&W post.

    That is kind of funny. I had a very similar thing happen. One anti-RW person gave me the name of a male feminist of their liking who, I was assured, would not come down on the side of Ophelia Benson. And when I searched for the guy’s name, up came a posting of his on… You guessed it! Butterflies & Wheels! LOL.

  60. 60
    Aratina Cage

    Oh, I just googled his name again and he really is good: Phil Molé. Examples from the linked article at the old B&W:

    There’s a standard narrative about the way feminism has affected relationships between men and women – especially in heterosexual relationships. It goes something like this: A long time ago, men and women fell in love. Their relationships weren’t perfect (what in life ever is?), but they worked, because men and women each had distinct, well-defined roles. But women’s liberation changed everything, and made women aware of desires and needs they never knew they had, and bewildered men didn’t know how to respond. This narrative is broadly accepted, even across the political spectrum, but there are elements missing from it. It either directly or implicitly blames a movement to end inequality for problems that were caused by inequality, for starters. But it also ignores the fact that the happy days of male and female relationships weren’t equally happy for women, as well as the sense of male entitlement that frequently has caused the unhappiness.

    and

    The use of sexist language is, of course, not the same thing as rape. But both behaviors are made possible by the culture of entitlement, and the way it shapes and then excuses the masculinity of many men. A culture in which many men see nothing wrong with making misogynistic remarks, with subsuming the rights and feelings of women to their own, or excusing the sexist behavior of other men is exactly the kind of culture where high frequencies of sexual violence will occur. The behaviors lie on a continuum that is more fluid than most people may want to acknowledge.

  61. 61
    Aratina Cage

    And one more note, that all happened before Christina Hoff Sommers became their feminist guru.

  62. 62
    Phil Mole

    “One anti-RW person gave me the name of a male feminist of their liking who, I was assured, would not come down on the side of Ophelia Benson. And when I searched for the guy’s name, up came a posting of his on… You guessed it! Butterflies & Wheels! LOL.”

    Odd, I stumbled on this old thread by accident looking for an online link for something I’d written.

    I keep finding that for someone who isn’t anywhere close to being famous, I certainly have other people distort and simplify things I’ve said an awful lot — the folks who think that I’m somehow antagonistic to Ophelia and RW being a good example of that.

    “Oh, I just googled his name again and he really is good: Phil Molé.”

    Thanks for the kind words. :-)

  63. 63
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes, I’ve seen your name bandied about by the RW-haters a few times, Phil. Very odd.

    Got any articles you want me to publish? :)

  64. 64
    Phil Mole

    It’s all pretty strange, especially considering that even before that whole controversy started, I hadn’t been participating in online discussions much at all. To the degree that I discussed the RW/Dawkins issue, I’d pretty consistently said that RW had a good point, that Dawkins’ reaction trivialized the issue, but that I’d thought the rush to cast Dawkins as a misogynist was unfair. And that the whole controversy had become too hopelessly entangled in minutia about who said what on obscure discussion threads to have a good chance of fostering rational discussion – which is in fact why I then ceased even the little bit of participating I’d done. Very weird that people tried to bandy my name around, because it seems that bandying my name around couldn’t really do their cause much good. I mean, *I’ve* barely heard of me.

    Even so, I’ll try to think of a topic to write about. Been meaning to get to a new article for a while now.

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