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Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists

Stashed in: Women, Science!, Awesome, XX, Extraordinary People, Science Studies, Cognitive Bias, STEM

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If it seems women in STEM fields aren't taken seriously, it's because they may not be.

A new study by CU-Boulder researcher Sarah Banchefsky, a postdoctoral researcher in social psychology, finds that women scientists who have “feminine” traits such as longer hair and finer facial features are generally assumed to be non-scientists.

Researchers asked participants to rate 80 photos on a scale of masculine to feminine, and they asked participants to assess the likelihood that the photo depicted a scientist and a teacher.

“What we find is that for photos of men, there is no impact of gendered appearance,” said Banchefsky, lead author of a paper titled “But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist,” recently published in the journal Sex Roles.

But for photos of women, greater femininity corresponded to being judged as less likely to be a scientist and more likely to be an early childhood educator, a field dominated by women.  

Participants were not told anything about the people in the photos, but all of them are noted scientists – tenured or tenure-track faculty in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at top U.S. research universities.

The researchers controlled for factors such as the perceived age of the target.

Many of the Reddit comments did pick up on the cultural exposure most people have of women being their early educators (”Fair enough; how does that change the apparent fact that early childhood educators are overwhelmingly female?"). 

I think more enlightening would be a study showing men's photos and if people can determine who may be a primary school educator. (Gender equality in the workplace isn't equal until it goes both ways.)

Hmmm. Most executive chefs and high-end fashion designers are male, yet how common are male high school home economics teachers? Women are their employees - doing the mundane.

Wait--can we distinguish between scientists and engineers please?

Good one!

This particular research does lump all of STEM together. 

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