While the "Matilda Effect" and the "Matthew Effect" have both been established as phenomena that do happen in the scientific world, researchers are still trying to learn just how pervasive gender bias can be in the sciences and other industries.
Several studies have shown that when women are the primary authors on papers seeking publication, they are less likely than male-authored papers to receive a place in a notable publication.
Women in science often receive fewer grants and fewer funds than their male counterparts when they do receive grants. They receive awards less often, which almost certainly will have an impact on a scientist's career trajectory.
Insights from Those in the Field
1) Ben Barres was a neurobiologist and researcher by the name of "Barbara" prior to his gender transition. After his transition, Ben noted that male colleagues viewed the work of his "sister," Barbara, as weaker than his own - a striking example of the perception of female scientists and researchers compared to their male counterparts.
2) In 2001, the journal Behavioral Ecology switched from a single-blind review process to a double-blind review process, meaning the reviewers went from seeing author names to not seeing author names on papers submitted for publication. In the year during the switch, the journal noted a 7.9% increase in the rate of accepted publications with female first authors.
These stories provide insights into the perception of male-authored works compared to female-authored works, and while they are certainly attention-grabbing and thought-provoking, there is also academic research to consider, as well.
What do the Academic Studies Have to Say?
One study¹ looked into people's perceptions of 1) quality of work and 2) interest in future collaboration with first-authors.
243 graduate students, 70% of whom were female, participated in this study. They were asked to evaluate abstracts taken from an international conference. Authors' names were either obviously female, obviously male, or gender-neutral.
When the researchers controlled for content, participants consistently perceived the work of male authors to be of higher quality, and they believed those works were particularly high in quality when the paper was associated with male-typed topics, such as political communications or communication technologies.
Study participants were more interested in personally connecting with those male authors, especially when their work was more traditionally male-dominated; on the flip side, there was more interest in collaborating with female authors when their work was related to traditionally female-dominated domains.
Another study² reviewed the rates of female scientists receiving awards for their work in comparison to the composition of the honoring committee. They found:
- When awards committees were chaired by men, men received awards about 95% of the time, even though women comprised about 20% of the nomination pool
- When women were represented on the committee, women's odds improved in receiving awards
- When a male was the chair of the committee, the increased odds were essentially negated
- When a committee was chaired by women, women received awards about 23% of the time, and women comprised about a third of the nomination pool
- Men were much more likely to be the chair of a committee for scholarly or academic awards rather than service or teaching awards.
A Long Road Here & A Long Road To Go
These findings are consistent with theories that women have a more difficult path to achieve scientific recognition and success. On the plus side, between 1990 and 2010, the rate of women being recipients of awards nearly doubled.
While women are certainly more represented and recognized at higher levels of the scientific community than they were before, there is still a long way to go in understanding and addressing the pervasive gender biases that contribute to the lack of female representation and recognition in the sciences.
Lincoln AE, Pincus S, Koster JB, Leboy PS. The matilda effect in science: awards and prizes in the US, 1990s and 2000s. Soc Stud Sci. 2012 Apr;42(2):307-20. doi: 10.1177/0306312711435830. PMID: 22849001.
Knobloch-Westerwick Silvia, Glynn CJ, Huge Michael. The Matilda Effect in Science Communication: An Experiment on Gender Bias in Publication Quality Perceptions and Collaboration Interest. Science Communication. 2013 Feb; 35(603). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547012472684
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