MAR 19, 2014 10:00 AM PDT

How Subtle and "Benevolent" Biases Undermine Women's Advancement in the Sciences

Presented At Neuroscience
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  • Henry Merritt Wriston Professor of the Social Sciences, Professor of Psychology, Lawrence University
      Peter Glick is a Professor of Psychology at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. He received his A.B. in psychology from Oberlin College in 1979 and his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1984. Glick and frequent collaborator Susan T. Fiske received the 1995 Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, honoring the "best paper or article of the year on intergroup relations" for "The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism." Research interests: how the structure of intergroup relations affects prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination; and how subjectively positive stereotypes (e.g., women are warm and nurturing, Jews are clever) can nevertheless feed into discrimination (e.g., paternalistic prejudice toward women, envious prejudice toward Jews).


    Discrimination against women has typically been attributed to hostile and demeaning stereotypes about womens capabilities. However, a growing body of evidence shows that subjectively positive, but patronizing views undermine and sabotage women in traditionally masculine occupations, including STEM fields. Specifically, benevolent sexism the belief that women are wonderful but fragile, and require mens protection and assistance limits womens opportunities, leads to soft and uninformative feedback, and undermines womens performance by creating intrusive thoughts that interfere with executive functioning. Relatedly, subjectively positive, but prescriptive stereotypes that women should be warmer than men create backlash when women assert themselves (e.g., promote their work). Because benevolently, as compared to hostile, sexist attitudes are more widely accepted and (falsely) viewed as harmless, women as well as men often endorse benevolently sexist views. Women who internalize benevolent sexism show less ambitious educational and occupational aspirations, increased concern that career success will interfere with heterosexual romance, and greater tolerance for gender inequality. The first step in combating these problems is to recognize that benevolent sexism has nontrivial and insidious effects on female scientists. Organizations that train and employ science can systematically reduce bias and increase womens success by attending to and modifying subtle cues that signal to women that they dont belong. Organizations can also promote wise mentoring, which involves: (a) believing and communicating that scientific talent develops through training (is not fixed and unchanging), (b) combining critical feedback using high standards with (c) messages that the mentee belongs, has promise, and is being given the feedback to accelerate her or his development.

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