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Why are there so few women (and minority) professors?

From Dr. (and soon to be Prof) Cullen Blake:
I really liked your blog post about the Moss-Racusin PNAS discrimination paper. It's been really great to see how much attention this paper has generated for this super-important issue in our field. A few of these types of studies have been done before, including one by my wife Katy Milkman. The Moss-Racusin study had a very small sample, as well as non-representative participants who were informed that they were participating in a study, and the study considered discrimination by academics toward people applying for a non-academic position. Katy's study involves many thousands of representative faculty participants interacting naturally with prospective doctoral students, and it is able to look at relative rates of discrimination not only against women but also minorities across different departments and types of schools.
I'm very interested! This is an amazing study based on the rate at which emails from prospective students are ignored, and requests for meetings are denied. You should read the writeup in the link above, but here's the summary table of the results:
[When emailed one week in advance of a proposed meeting (N=3,241), rates at which professors ignored or declined prospective PhD students’ requests to meet as a function of student race and gender.]
Surprisingly, the bias here breaks down along racial/ethnic lines, with the strongest bias against Indian and Chinese students. I can't really speak to that bias very well, but the bias against black and hispanic students is a real bummer!

This denial of entry compounds other problems that black students encounter. The biggest barrier, in my experience, is with black students facing strong, rigid hierarchies within science. Unlike students from affluent, college-educated families, students from poorer, underrepresented groups typically grow up learning not to question authority. "Don't talk back!" is the most likely response to a black child correcting an adult on factual knowledge, or even attempting to express what they know. This means that black students tend to be very quite, shy and reserved when confronted with a rigid hierarchy or when surrounded by elders.

Fortunately, I had a mentor in college who simultaneously taught me to take ownership of my education and to speak up when I feel I'm right. He taught me how to use my "physics voice" in order to assert myself, and how to not back down when I feel I am correct, even if people "above" me disagree. He taught me how to introduce myself to others with a clear voice while looking people in the eye.

This helped me once the door was open. Until reading this study by Milkman and collaborators, I don't think I recognized how hard it was to open doors in the first place!


AlphaCenBeebee said…
I wish I had your advisor :)

Just my personal opinion, but...when you're part of a minority (ethnic, gender, sexual, etc.) you have to be quite a bit more assertive and self-confident to overcome at least partially the worse hand you've been dealt. If you don't, and you're still internalizing years of being looked down upon because of you're differences, you're toast in science given the importance of networking and personality. Ideally, the strength of your ideas and your ability to communicate should be all that counts; unfortunately, judging by the times I've been talked over, interrupted, dismissed in the face of my being obviously right just this week, it is not nearly enough.

I guess I have no tricks up my sleeve left when you're looking in the eyes and explaining something, and the person you're speaking to starts to talk with someone else.

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