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    On Gender Bias In HEP
    By Tommaso Dorigo | January 24th 2013 07:09 AM | 27 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    Sabine Hossenfelder is a well-known theoretical physicist as well as a successful blogger. In her blog today I read a letter she sent to Time Magazine. The letter was triggered by the following sentence in a piece by Jeffrey Kluger discussing the runners-up for "person of the year":

    “Physics is a male-dominated field, and the assumption is that a woman has to overcome hurdles and face down biases that men don’t. But that just isn’t so. Women in physics are familiar with this misconception and acknowledge it mostly with jokes.”
    Admittedly, the writer is badly downplaying the issue. Having been in HEP for twenty years, I have witnessed cases of women who ascended to considerable heights exploiting their being women, as well as cases of women left behind for the same reason. I believe the latter far outweigh the former, and I believe the reason is indeed a good dose of gender bias, prejudice, and misconception that is present in our field as much as everywhere else I look.

    However, Bee's letter to Time focuses mostly on the quite concrete, but off-target issue of family planning, which is indeed something that normally women have to deal with at a time of their life when they also need to concentrate on the task of getting a tenured position. While this is indeed an additional hindrance for women, it confuses matters. So here is the comment I left to Bee's blog today:

    I believe one should distinguish between the hurdles posed to women by a biological difference with men with the hurdles caused by prejudice, misconceptions, and gender bias. If you don't do that, you end up facing the rejoinder: "If the competition for an academic position is unfair to women because women in their thirties want/need to have maternity leaves, it is at least in part due to their own life choices."

    In reality, I think the most disturbing aspect of the different chances of men and women in our field is still due to the biases and the prejudice, which are omnipresent - while as you note the maternity leaves are easier somewhere and harder somewhere else.

    So I would not place the accent there...

    After I left the comment, I saw another reader of Bee's blog made a similar point. Here is a relevant clip:

    In general, I think it is important to separate the issues a) women in physics and b) combining career and family. We have come a long way since Max Planck told Lise Meitner that she couldn't work with him because there were no women's toilets at the institute. These days, if a woman has children early on, she can often expect some understanding for not having as many papers as her competition consisting of single and/or gay men. I think you'll find that it is more difficult for a man in academia to expect any sort of understanding for having fewer papers but more children.

    The same reader actually explains that in his own experience (similar to mine) he too had to choose to give birth and raise children at a time when he would have had better reasons for spending sleepless nights. And he even mentions that the implicit suggestion that men can choose to fix their careers and then go looking for younger women to marry is unhappy... I am sure that is not what Bee implied - she was just observing the evidence rather than judging it.

    So, I advise anybody who wants to tackle the issue to keep the problem of family planning, with related issues of what allowance for parental leave different countries provide, well separated from that of the existing gender bias in academia selection.

    And there is actually another point to make on the whole issue. If we talk about a career within a particle physics experiment (taking hint from Fabiola Gianotti being the ATLAS spokesperson at the time of the Higgs boson discovery, which won her participation in the selection for person of the year by Time Magazine as well as a 500,000 dollar prize from the russian billionaire Milner), then the issue of gender bias is quite considerably less severe than in academia. I can make the example of the CERN experiments: within a community where women are a roughly 20% minority (forgive me for being approximative here), I can see women occupying important positions as spokespersons (Gianotti, ATLAS), Collaboration Board chairs (Rodrigo, CMS), plus many organizational seats. In CMS out of 16 physics group conveners we have at present three women, which is more or less on par with the percentage of women in the experiment.

    Comments

    Stellare
    Thank you Tommaso, for being a male voice pointing out gender bias. I agree with you that it is wise to separate the practical issues (family planning) with the harder to solve gender bias that is downright discrimination.

    Those who think that if only you are good enough you will win are at best naive.

    I share your observation that some women are successfully using their gender to advance their career, but for the most part it is the opposite that is the case. I've heard all kinds of excuses, from both men and women, except the truth of the matter and that is women are being discriminated against. My own attitude to this has been accepting it as a fact. More like in a 'reality bites' kind of way. Life is unfair, get over it. :-) That is of course a survival strategy.

    The sad part of it, beside the individual losses, is that society would have benefited from better use of women's talents. Actually, in more than just having more talent in women, but working environments are so much more productive when composed by a more balanced mix of men and women. The men's talents will also be better used. (Note that it is the blend and not either of the gender that does it).


    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    dorigo
    Ciao Bente,

    yes, I think your approach is the correct one. S**t happens. We can try to avoid it and fight gender bias, but given its sociological roots  it is doubtful we can win in the short term, so accepting as a fact of life is a good survival strategy.

    And I agree that diversity is the key to success in many areas of human activity. More women at the top would do a lot of good in several situations (but I also know bad examples, such as Thatcher ;-)

    Cheers,
    T.
    There was a cool study recently on the topic.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474
    I was very surprised by it. In a nutshell, it says that the same job application in science signed by male name gets ranked higher than if signed by a female name.

    dorigo
    Thanks for that link SK, interesting reading material.
    Cheers,
    T.
    Extremely interesting, indeed!
    But not surprising, because similar studies had been done in the past, with similar conclusions (probability that a paper is accepted by a peer-reviewed journal is larger if the submitter has a male first name or if the first name is not provided, than if it is a female name).
    What is really interesting is this:

    <<
    The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.
    >>

    This is something that I have seen also in other studies about unconscious biases towards minorities: the discriminated minority sometimes tends to share the same prejudices as the majority.

    Hank
    The only issue I have regarding the claim of bias rather than choice is that it seems to be a convenient label and only selectively applied - in America, one political group has taken over the top levels of academia and they insist with a straight face that does not impact their hiring, even though representation of people not on the left has plummeted in the last 25 years.  They say it is simply choice and that corporate science is simply better for people on the right.  Well, why doesn't that apply to women?  Corporations are better for women too and the one perceived as the most male dominated, engineering, pays women higher on average than any other industry.

    Corporations are more forgiving about family than academia but that is because people are comparing large corporations to research groups of 5. If you instead compare a lab to a small business of 5 or 10, the impact of one person on leave is really substantial.  And labs are a small business, for as much as scientists want to contend they are research and not corporate.

    Anyway, I would be inclined to be less contrarian on this topic if American science academics were not such blatant hypocrites about fairness and equality in one area and not all areas.

    End of rant. :)


    dorigo
    Hello Hank,

    well, whether academia in the US is dominated by the left because of a recruitment bias or whether it is people with that political orientation that are mostly attracted by jobs in academia is the question, and I bet we would not get to the bottom of it by talking it away.

    As for your last sentence, I am sure you have lots of examples to bring - you've written a book on that, haven't you... But I am mostly ignorant on the topic. By the way, I haven't seen your book in my mailbox yet ;-)

    Cheers,
    T.
    Hank
    I don't think it will sell in Italy - too topical for the US in its examples, I assume. However, I do have two articles in the upcoming issue of the Italian version of Wired, on the future of organ transplants and a 'cap and trade' plan for water.
    You said "I have witnessed cases of women who ascended to considerable heights exploiting their being women"
    And I say YES. I have seen such incidents myself and I wish I can elaborate on it. May be later.

    Thank you for this nice post.

    dorigo
    Now Hatim, what you say may be true, but any such statement from a man should always be accompanied by a clause where he admits that that is the tip of the iceberg -in the sense that it is a small, visible part of a phenomenon which is invisible and has mostly the opposite sign.

    Your being a middle-easterner by origin aggrievates matters IMHO - if I were a muslim I would be extremely careful to explicitate at all times my lack of gender bias.

    Cheers,
    T.
    John Hasenkam
    I was very surprised by it. In a nutshell, it says that the same job application in science signed by male name gets ranked higher than if signed by a female name.

    Blind auditions key to hiring musicians


    Using data from the audition records, the researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman's ultimate selection is increased several fold, although the competition is extremely difficult and the chance of success still low.


    After some years in academia my sister ran a very successful business. When she began, mid-80's, she complained about the bias, how much harder it was to be recognised. These days it has improved a great deal in Australia. Not enough but still a big improvement. 

    People do not appreciate the depth of bias that can lie within our souls. There was a German study many years ago which found that the marking of student test results was significantly influenced by the picture of the student on the paper: the more attractive the student, the higher the grade. The bias is not impossible to overcome but refusing to recognise these innate tendencies will perpetuate the problem. 
    dorigo
    Hi John,

    the story of blind auditions is interesting. Yes, the biases we carry are hard for us to recognize. I can bring in my experience with evaluating exams in particle physics: when you evaluate students at oral exams, you filter the answers they give through your brain, with all its nonlinearities, preconceptions, and dark spots. It is not just what they say and how they say it what determines the image that you build of their knowledge of the matter. It is also their behaviour, their look, their posture, the way they write. And it is also their physical appearance, undeniably. We fail to recognize that all these factors influence our perception, but we cannot really fight it. It is part of how our brain works.

    Cheers,
    T.
    I'm surprised that everyone dismisses the idea that men should get tenure first and then marry a younger woman. In fact, I think that 99% of men are not ready to marry until they are in their 40s, and that marriages between men in their 40s and women in their 20s are ideal --- the man is less likely to stray, and the woman will be freed of her husband when she is in her 50s, which is precisely when most women wish that their husbands were dead. A win-win compromise.

    dorigo
    Dear GM,

    kind of a flippant comment, but you entice an answer anyway. Young men are often immature, that is true. What a woman does without the love of her life at 55 years of age, however, is not entirely clear to me. At 55 a married woman enjoys freedom (from kids now grown up, from busy husbands, from family obligations) anyway, but being left widows is not something most women that age would subscribe to.
    I should also add that I am sort of following your advice anyway, since I am 46 and my fiancee is 31. But that was not planned, although a fortunate turnaround for me. Also, I plan to be around for much more than 30 more years!

    Cheers,
    T.
    Tommaso, did your now probably middle aged, ex wife's career suffer at all, when she was presumably the main parent responsible for raisng your kids, whle you were very busy for all those child rearing years, concentrating on developing your now very successful career in HEP?

    Stellare
    Please, April, no personal attacks on Tommaso! Do you not see that he is a reflected man?
    Besides the fact that personal attacks are not the way to communicate, shooting at an understanding person is not particularly helpful....
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    What is a reflected man Bente? Is tt one who trades in his badly reflecting wife for a better reflecting younger one maybe? If so then there are plenty of reflected men in the world, why should they be above criticism in a discussion about women's careers possbly suffering during child rearng years, especially when a reflected man doesn't think its relevant?

    Gerhard Adam
    Hmm .. I had no idea that women never divorce men, or that the reason for divorce was always singularly associated with age. 
    If so then there are plenty of reflected men in the world, why should they be above criticism in a discussion about women's careers possbly suffering during child rearng years, especially when a reflected man doesn't think its relevant?
    Unless you're prepared to argue that a woman is coerced into having children, your position trivializes women's responsibility in making their own choices in life.  The mere fact that you would think to criticize a man in conjunction with the choices also made by a woman, is simply propagating the myth of victimization.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Stellare
    Tommaso has demonstrated a profound understanding of gender issues, more than most.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    dorigo
    Thank you Bente! But you should know that in other circles I have been flagged
    as a sexist... See e.g. here ! ;-)

    Cheers,
    T.
    dorigo
    I am not sure I understand what you are accusing me April, without knowing
    anything about me except that I have separated and have another woman now.
    I detect some measure of bitterness in your words, maybe due to your personal
    situation. If that were the case, I would advise you to never let that drive your
    opinions about the people around you.

    Cheers,
    T.
    dorigo
    Actually not, but for incidental reasons. But I am one, and I do not make a statistics...
    Cheers,
    T.
    John Hasenkam
    We fail to recognize that all these factors influence our perception, but we cannot really fight it. It is part of how our brain works.


    Tommaso


    Hmmm ...  maybe. I read an interesting paper by Sarah Stevenage on the impact of facial disfigurement in the job interview situation. In that study it was found that experienced recruiters did not exhibit the same degree of innate bias as the inexperienced students who were also making assessments. I suspect that the experienced recruiters, perhaps even unconsciously, based on their experience, had formed standards of analysis that were more objective, more about making a determination on the necessary criteria rather than letting their "gut feelings" having so much sway. 


    Very hard to know Tommaso but but we do know that some people do make a stronger effort to be "fair", to find metrics that are actually relevant to the decisions being made rather than just trusting their guts.  


    Additionally we may want to consider that the biases are so not just biological but are cultural effects but of course we have the problem that culturally induced biases may be innately driven. 




    Feminism is a systematic lie to paint women as victims and get privileges. When you check feminist data, they turn out to be false: for example they state that men are more violent than women (researchers received death threats because they consistently find that violence is caused by 5-10% of the population, with equal rates of men and women) and that male violence is leading cause of death for women (they falsified data by 3 orders of magnitude!). These lies are used to oppress men, for example false allegations against fathers.

    Coming to science, the data is that women and men are now hired in equal rates except in hard sciences like engineering, physics, and HEP. Personal achievement is more objective in hard sciences. The real reason of under-representation is not oppression, but that women are less interested and/or less able of doing this. Indeed research shows that on various skills (for example the IQ) women and men have on average equal scores but men have a variance higher by 15%. So there are naturally more men than women in the upper and lower sides of the distribution: most genius as well as most idiots are men. Of course, feminism wants gender quotas only in the best jobs, leaving women under-represented in steel industry. The result is the hiring of less competent women only because they have the right sex (there is a well known example in HEP, but let's avoid names).

    The real situation is that Fabiola Gianotti is celebrated on Times because she is a woman, unlike the CMS spokesperson. We all know that the discovery of the Higgs was a collective collaboration effort. Times used Fabiola as "person of the year" to paint women as victims. Sabine correctly wrote that the real problem is that in HEP almost everybody gets a stable job only after reaching an uncomfortably high age which conflicts with family issues.

    Hi Tommasso,

    Did you already count how many of those women in leadership positions in ATLAS and CMS have children? Now that would be an interesting number, I think that would shed some light on why people keep combining those two phenomena (also compare it to male conveners with kids, of course. You have a nice large sample there anyway so can use it as comparison to how many 'typical' HEP people in leadership positions have kids)...

    Hank
    Wouldn't this be the same in any field?  If you even look at a game like World of Warcraft - something make believe - the most active people are going to have no kids. Kids create different priorities in most people.

    I concur it is not a gender bias issue - in the US there is a difference in gender in the hard sciences but none in the life sciences and the disparity in the social sciences is far toward the other side - but if it is gender bias then we also have to consider political and minority bias to explain those gaps also.  There are fewer minorities in American physics than women and even fewer conservative people than minorities. At the bottom of the representation pool is handicapped people where, despite solid numbers among undergraduates, there are almost none at the higher levels.  Do we really think liberal science academia is biased against women, minorities, Republicans and the handicapped?  I'd have to defend against that.  

    In America of today, at least, women get faculty and tenure jobs more often than men - when they apply. But they do apply less because academia is a lot harder on families than the private sector, which is why so many female doctors, corporate executives and private sector scientists juggle family and work just fine while academics have a harder time. 

    Sorry, Tommaso, I ended up writing a whole article in a comment.
    Stellare
    Combining motherhood with a demanding career is just a matter of practicalities. Tommaso is right in pointing to the real issues in the uneven gender distribution. It is not a matter of having children...
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth