Is meritocracy based on true merits?

Gender equality in science, we are not there yet

Mónica Vara Pérez · 01-09-2020 10:00 · Gender equality in science Science Chronicles

Despite the success of quotas in increasing numbers, they are associated to a very harsh stigma: are we hired because we are the best fit or because we are women? In the workplace, this might come associated with insecurity, impostor syndrome or overcompensation by the hired woman and questioning, insubordination or exclusion by colleagues. However, how true is this?

Nellie gave an example of multiple studies conducted in this field showed that the presentation of the same curriculum under two different names (John or Jennifer) was scored higher in competency, hireability, mentoring and pay grade when presented under John’s name (Moss-Racusin, et al. 2012). Not only CVs but also the language used in job advertisements or during job interviews might condition the gender of the applicants and their hireability. In the study of Gaucher, Friesen and Kay (2011), it was stated that words such as ambitious, competent or leader were considered “masculine” words (perpetuating male stereotypes) whereas interpersonal, pleasant, humble or cooperative would fit under “feminine” words. In academia, these gender differences can also be appreciated in publication output and citation and therefore, contribute to a lower hireability in tenure track positions or funding opportunities for women.

These and other studies showed that meritocracy and hireability is highly influenced by unconscious bias, and this is not only limited to gender but also ethnicity or socio-economical background. Unfortunately, this is not a new concept. Gender and diversity bias trainings have already been going on for years in American university to raise awareness (see example); however, this did not have a dramatic effect in numbers. For this reason, the training and inclusion of gender equality experts in hiring and human resources departments is one of the measures highlighted by the Gender Equality Plans that will actively contribute to reach equality by fighting unconscious bias. Time will tell the effectiveness of these measures.


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