‘Brilliant’ Fields Still Unwelcoming To Women

NEW YORK — Gender stereotypes are still very much in play when it comes to academic fields that are known to “value brilliance,” according to a recent study. Researchers from New York University report that such fields and professions are still seemingly apathetic toward females, with fewer women entering and more women leaving these fields.

While it’s long been established that significant levels of gender segregation mark various academic fields, the exact underlying dynamics driving these imbalances and how they relate to career trajectories have remained far less clear. Following an international collaboration entailing the analysis of 30 disciplines, study authors posit these trends are at least partially caused by prevalent gender stereotypes. Their paper is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Using a massive database of academic CVs, we were able to uncover the career dynamics by which beliefs about brilliance give rise to gender segregation in academia,” says Aniko Hannak, an assistant professor at the University of Zürich and an author of the paper, in a university release.

‘Brilliance Culturally Associated With Men’

So, to better understand these phenomena, the research team examined differences across field-specific ability beliefs (FABs) as an explanation. Such beliefs reflect if a respondent believes “brilliance” is required to succeed in their field. “FABs may contribute to gender segregation,” Joseph observes, “because brilliance—exceptional intellectual ability—is culturally associated with men more than women.”

Previous work had already highlighted an association between academic fields’ FABs and their gender composition, but the identifying factors explaining it were not determined. In response, study authors constructed a new dataset encompassing over 86,000 people that combined information gathered from two sources: the author-tracking service ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID), in which researchers fill out information about their publications and their educational and professional histories, and information collected by a survey of U.S. academics from 30 fields.

The results indicated that women are underrepresented among those who enter fields with brilliance-oriented FABs (fields seen as requiring “brilliance”) and overrepresented among those who exit these fields.

“Our findings highlight the persistent role of prejudice against women in perpetuating gender imbalances in academia—especially in fields that prize brilliance—underscoring the need for continued efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity in all fields,” adds Andrei Cimpian, a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and one of the study’s researchers.

Women Face Uphill Battle From The Start

The research team was also sure to search for the reasons behind these phenomena by focusing on gender-based prejudice. This was accomplished with the help of an earlier 2015 study, co-authored by Cimpian, that had examined academics’ perceptions of discrimination against women in their respective fields. Participants rated statements such as, “Women face more challenges than men if they pursue careers in [my field],” and “[My field] as a discipline is welcoming to women.”

This approach to measurement is consistent with a long tradition in industrial and organizational psychology, in which it is commonplace to ask subjects about the levels of prejudice and discrimination they perceive in their organizations. The data here still showed that fields displaying more brilliance-oriented FABs scored significantly higher on perceived prejudice against women.

“Despite efforts to address gender segregation in academia, our research—using the largest database of academic CVs to date—reveals that fields valuing brilliance as a marker of success are less welcoming to women, leading to fewer women entering and more women leaving these fields due to prevalent gender stereotypes,” Prof. Hannak adds.

Still, researchers emphasize that these findings will help them continue their search for interventions that can help address and stop gender segregation in academia and beyond. “Our team’s prior work shows that with committed, sustained efforts, interventions that reduce gender segregation are possible and powerful,” Joseph concludes.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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  1. Absurd. There is no discrimination in science fields; natural exceptionalism will always rise to the top. If women were more commonly exceptional, the industry would see more women founded and run research and tech companies because that’s who would have the ideas, drive, and ability to make it happen. The world rewards the people who are exceptional, no matter what they look like. Spelling bees, nail parlors, the NBA, accountants, micro assembly, everything will naturally attract the people who do it best, otherwise it never succeeds and disappears.

    1. Yep. That is why we don’t see many women playing in the NFL nor do we see top knotch male ballerinas in tutus doing swan lake.

  2. What a bunch of liberal, feminist gobbledegook. Women have ample opportunity to do anything they wish, to follow any career path they choose and are in higher positions than ever. We have women CEOs, governors, congresswomen, pilots, cabinet members, admirals, generals, firefighters, cops, etc.
    If a field is unattractive to women, it’s because the nature of the work is not acceptable to them. Like it or not, there is a biological difference between men and women. A woman is less likely to have desire to be a high angle steel worker (spiderman) and a man is less likely to be a daycare worker or dress designer.
    Sometimes, you have to understand that we are two different sexes …with totally different physical and mental makeups. No matter how hard the left tries, we never going to be a gender blind, unisex society made of up of working drones.

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