What Gender Bias Looks Like

Gender bias can be subtle and difficult to understand. At the beginning of my women’s leadership programs, many women cannot see it and eventually discover that it is so much a part of their daily lives, they have become numb to it. The following are some recently published examples of gender bias from the media, finance and biopharma, economics, and Wall Street that silence women’s voices and create barriers to women’s participation in shaping our world. News Media: Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times write that women are underrepresented in news coverage by a ratio of three-to-one. Being quoted or cited in news articles helps determine who is considered to be an authority on a topic. Taub and Fisher note that the social machinery that equates expertise with maleness is complex and creates a vicious cycle that shuts women out. For example, news organizations use online searches to find experts to quote or cite. Because women are underrepresented in news coverage, their names do not come up as often in searches and they continue to be excluded. Finance and Biopharma: Rebecca Robbins and Meghana Keshavan of STAT share an example of gender bias at a large annual healthcare conference sponsored by J.P. Morgan: men represented 94 percent of the 540 people making high-profile presentations to biotech executives and investors. Let’s be clear—these events are where careers are made and enhanced by the opportunity for visibility. And women are not visible. This lack of representation of women on panels and in speaking slots at professional conferences is a trend that has been recently reported in several fields. Economics: Justin Wolfers of the New York Times writes about the scarcity of women and women’s voices in the field of economics and the implications for all of us. He notes that “because economics has an outsized influence on public policy . . . [and] many debates are likely to be dominated by men for years to come,” there are so few women in economics. Wolfers cites surveys that show stark differences in opinion between women and men economists: women economists, by large margins, favor policies that promote income equality, big government and government regulation, mandatory employer-provided health insurance, and labor policies that promote environmental quality over economic growth. Women economists tend to focus on different topics than men, and as Wolfers writes, “If there were more female economists, more attention would surely be paid to these issues.” The number of women studying economics has stalled, and women are a minority in every level of training and rank in economics. Wolfers notes that a host of careful studies has identified barriers that discourage and drive women out of the field, such as being held to a higher standard for publishing or not being given tenure credit for publishing with men, while men get credit for publishing with women. Jim Tankersley and Noam Scheiber of the New York Times, also writing about women in economics, share new research on patterns of gender discrimination in the field. One study on the most popular introductory economics textbooks found that the textbooks refer to men four times more than to women and that 90 percent of the economists cited in the texts are men. This new research also notes that the bias against African American women in economics is especially pronounced—only fifty-two black women earned doctorates in the field between 2006 and 2015. Black women are incredibly invisible. Wall Street: A new lawsuit against the investment firm run by Steven A. Cohen, Point72, is reported by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times. The woman bringing the suit explains, “The company is a testosterone-fueled ‘boys club’ in which men comment on women’s bodies, belittle their abilities, exclude women from meetings, and pay them less than male peers.” Further evidence of gender bias is offered: women are fewer than 3 percent of managing directors and, of the 125 portfolio managers, only one is a woman. When women’s voices and perspectives are missing from the classroom, research, business, and government, we all lose. Let’s keep the pressure on for change.   Photo courtesy of businessforward (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>