December 13, 2019 / 5:03 PM / a month ago

Gender bias roughly similar among scientists in Spain, Britain: survey

(Reuters Health) - A new study adds to evidence that male and female scientists in Europe have very different perceptions of gender equality and that male researchers don’t recognize gender bias in their professions.

The study, conducted in Spain, found views of gender bias among scientists there are largely similar to what was seen in a 2016 study in Britain, with a few regional differences.

Overall, men in Spanish research institutions have a much more favorable view of how their female colleagues are treated and their department’s commitment to gender equality than the women in those institutions do, especially around the assessment of women researchers as leaders, the investigators found.

Maria Jimenez Sanchez of King’s College London and colleagues surveyed 1,295 scientists from 63 Spanish institutions about their perceptions of gender equality. The respondents included twice as many females as males.

“Importantly, we found that women felt they are not valued as good leaders by men,” the researchers report in PLoS ONE.

Women in the study said men were more likely to have their work recognized, more likely to be invited to conferences and more likely to be asked to edit scientific journals. By contrast, men in the study thought women had similar access to these advantages.

With regard to promotions to senior posts, 24% to 65% of women believe it’s slightly easier, easier, or much easier for men to rise in the scientific ranks. By contrast, only 6% to 34% of men believed they had an easier path to promotion.

“We found that women perceived greater gender inequality in their departments compared to men and felt they are not valued as good leaders by men. While women felt that resources that allow for professional development in research and that are considered as markers of esteem are more easily allocated to men, men think these are more equally distributed between genders,” Jimenez Sanchez wrote in emailed comments.

Both genders, however, agreed women scientists were much more likely than their male counterparts to be asked to do administrative tasks or provide care and support for the wellbeing of students.

“The main finding is that men and women differ in the perception of gender equality in Spanish research system,” said Jimenez Sanchez, who also serves on the “Wom=n Equity & Research Committee” for the Society of Spanish Researchers in the United Kingdom.

“Despite ample evidence of bias from prior studies, male researchers in Spain largely did not perceive it in their departments,” she said.

The earlier ASSET 2016 study in Britain, using similar survey questions, also found male scientists largely believed gender equality was greater than did their female counterparts - but a key difference, according to the new report, is that British departments were perceived as more committed, concerned and responsive to matters of gender inequality.

The new study is the first to compare gender equality and bias between scientists in two European countries, the authors say.

It follows several recent studies probing differences in scientific advancement among women and men, including a French study last August that evaluated the decisions of 40 committees charged with filling high-level research posts. That study found hiring committees who denied gender bias is a problem were less likely to promote women.

“Perception may be critical to close the gender gap,” Jimenez Sanchez said. “If men, who occupy most of the positions of power and influence in academia, do not perceive gender inequalities, how will they drive this change?”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2RQlge6 PLoS ONE, online December 5, 2019.

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