Considerable prior research has indicated wide-ranging implicit and explicit biases exist regarding the association of gender with leadership and gender with scientific and engineering roles. Additionally, in higher education there is evidence that female faculty are more likely to be in teaching and advising roles than their male counterparts (Bird, Litt, & Yong, 2004; Hart & Cress, 2008). From this literature, it is unclear if these job-sorting circumstances are more so due to assignments made by faculty administrators or if men and women are self-sorting into different duties. Interest into this issue is particularly acute in engineering where known gender differences exist in interests among students and dispositions among faculty (Author, 2016).
To address this question of job-sorting, the Assignment of Research, Service, and Leadership Activity (ARSLA) was designed and completed by 695 engineering faculty members from 50 colleges of engineering in the United States. ARSLA prompts respondents to pretend they are a college of engineering administrator who is recommending task assignments for faculty members in a fictitious Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Department. The five tasks include one research-focused position, one leadership role, and three service responsibilities related to working with students or creating a new freshman engineering course that emphasizes ethics and societal values. Respondents are also provided brief bios of five faculty members who have varying years of experience. All bios indicate strengths in both technical and interpersonal skills.
Survey software randomly drove half of the respondents to an ARSLA showing five faculty members all with male names, while the other half of the respondents were shown a duplicate version with one exception. The difference was a name change of the faculty member with the middle level of experience from “Charlie” to “Cathy.”
Contrary to a predicted demonstration of explicit bias in favor of assigning men to research and leadership positions, results support a bias correction theory perspective. When respondents were presented with bios that included Cathy instead of Charlie, Cathy was 2.36 times more likely to be recommended to the leadership role of co-chairing the department. Similarly, the odds of Cathy being recommended to work on a serious research project was 1.67 times higher than odds for Charlie. In absence of a female to select from, Charlie was far more often assigned to curriculum development and advising roles than Cathy.
Disaggregation of data indicated male (n = 483) and female (n = 193) respondents were similarly favorable about recommending Cathy to a leadership role versus Charlie (18% and 20% for Cathy, 11% and 7% for Charlie - female and male respondents, respectively). Significant contrasts existed regarding recommending Cathy or Charlie to a serious research project. Male and female respondents both indicated a preference for Cathy versus Charlie to work on research, but the odds ratio of female respondents versus male respondents selecting Cathy to work on research was 1.64. Female respondents were twice as likely to recommend Cathy to work on research as they were to recommend Charlie (45% versus 23%).
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