Men outnumber women in technical fields by more than four to one. A good deal of this disparity is due to biases by both sexes when it comes to hiring new employees, according to researchers who watched how technology managers behaved, rather than asking their opinions in a survey.
During tests in which they were asked to hire a study participant to complete a mathematical task based only on the appearance of applicants, both male and female hiring managers chose to hire men twice as often as women, according to a study from researchers in three top US business schools published March 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required).
That result -- reinforced by similar conclusions from half a dozen major studies of gender bias in STEM hiring and education -- make it clear that the gender gap can't be blamed on women simply finding STEM careers unattractive.
Women are a minority in STEM jobs because they are kept out by hiring managers of both genders, who prefer to hire men for math- or technology-intensive positions, according to Ernesto Reuben, assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School and lead author of the study, "How Stereotypes Impair Women's Careers in Science."
Reuben said in a Columbia press release on the study:
Studies that seek to answer why there are more men than women in STEM fields typically focus on women's interests and choices. This may be important, but our experiments show that another culprit of this phenomenon is that hiring managers possess an extraordinary level of gender bias when making decisions and filling positions, often times choosing the less qualified male over a superiorly qualified female.
Despite more than a decade of pressure from government and civil rights groups to balance the ratio, women held only 23% of US jobs focused primarily on skills in science, technology, engineering, and math in 2008, according to a study from the federal National Math and Science Initiative.
The new study showed that both men and women are biased against hiring women for STEM jobs.
To test the reactions of hiring managers in technology companies, Reuben and colleagues from the Kellogg School of Management and Booth School of Business rounded up 191 hiring managers from technology companies and 150 "candidates" for a job requiring them to add up as many pairs of two-digit numbers as possible in four minutes. Other studies have shown that this test could be performed equally well by women or men.
When candidates were allowed to use the results as evidence of how well they would do on the job, the odds of a woman getting the job improved only about 9%.