Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Evaluation bias hits women who aren't twice as good

Sir

In your Editorial “All things equal” (Nature 437, 296; 2005) and Special Report “Small steps towards campus child care” (Nature, 446–447; 2005), much was made of the need for women scientists to have access to good child care if they are to succeed. However, this recent attention to child care in the scientific workplace merely addresses a symptom, rather than a cause, of under-representation of women in science.

Childless women and those with children have strikingly similar patterns of salary disparity and lag in achieving tenure and promotion compared with men.

As your report highlights, nations differ in child-care facilities — but they all share a shortage of women scientists, particularly at higher levels. Furthermore, the proportion of women in different sub-disciplines varies dramatically, but child-care availability is no different for a microbiologist or an engineer.

We suggest that lying behind the paucity of women in science is an unconscious bias in evaluating the sexes. Research shows that both men and women tend to overrate men and underrate women in competence, particularly when women are in a non-traditional field such as science (V. Valian Why So Slow? MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998). For example, when the heads of 147 psychology departments were sent fictitious resumés of prospective faculty members and asked to name the rank — assistant, associate or full professor — to which the candidate would be appointed in their department, the recommended rank was higher if the resumé had a male name than if the same qualifications had a woman's name attached (L. S. Fidell in Woman: Dependent or Independent Variable? 774–782, eds R. K. Unger and F. L. Denmark, Psychological Dimensions, New York, 1975).

More recently, women had to produce twice as many scientific papers of equivalent quality as men to be considered equally competent in a Swedish Medical Research Fellowship postdoctoral programme (C. Wennerås and A. Wold Nature 387, 341–343; 1997).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Additional information

Contributions to Correspondence may be submitted to corres@nature.com. They should be no longer than 500 words, and ideally shorter. They should be signed by no more than three authors; preferably by one. Published contributions are edited.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Zuk, M., Rosenqvist, G. Evaluation bias hits women who aren't twice as good. Nature 438, 559 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/438559c

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing