Where are the women (going)?

This post reports on two pieces of writing about women in research, and one piece of original, exploratory, research.

The first piece of writing is by Alice Eagly and grad student David Miller; called  Where Are the Women?; in a special section of Perspectives on “Scholarly Eminence”; the only article by a woman in this 9-article special section. It lead to a nice (if understandably exasperated) facebook discussion about gender, representation, and eminence, and a blog post by Åse Helene about pop songs (it’s relevant!).

One take home message from Eagly is as follows:

Women who seek to excel as psychological scientists should vigorously pursue the options that are available in their environments such as submitting papers and grant applications, asking for resources, collaborating with talented colleagues, avoiding excessive teaching and service assignments, and freely citing their own work. (p. 903)

…but I like this response from Cindy Pickett too:

How about instead we change the rules by which eminence is defined? My heroes in the field aren’t the people who have big h-indexes (necessarily). They are the people that have great ideas and yes publish prolifically, but they also mentor, inspire, teach and make the field a better place to be. THEY should be getting the awards.

(And, more cynically, this.)


The other piece of writing is not specific to psychology, and presents a happier picture: a (blogpost) reanalysis of an earlier article reveals no evidence for gender bias (at least not of the kind presented in the original article) in the funding decisions made by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

That’s a very hedged bit of good news, I’ll admit. But with more female than male grad students in social psychology, things might at least be moving in the right direction? (Here’s Mina Cikara &co., with a substantive analysis focused on JPSP. )

As it happens, I have some data on how academic psychologists feel about their field. The article based on this data is currently under review, so I have put it out of my mind for a while.

BUT! Thanks to the writing above, I was reminded that I asked my participants their gender (d’uh), and also how likely they thought they would be to apply for a job outside academia in the next 6 months. Leaving academia might not be a bad choice, but it is a choice which probably precludes you from attaining scholarly eminence.

So. Do women report greater likelihood of leaving academia than do men? Let’s explore!

I don’t want to fool anyone into thinking this analysis was confirmatory, so I won’t include any inferential statistics here. But the answer is, perhaps, tentatively but unsurprisingly, YES. In this particular sample of 400ish academic psychologists, with 50% men, the women reported a greater likelihood of applying for a job outside academia in the next 6 months than did the men. This gender difference was fully mediated by perceived self-efficacy. (Efficacy was measured by three items: “I can personally contribute to the future of psychological research,” “I have some control over the direction psychology takes as an academic field,” “As an individual researcher, I can effect change in the academic field of psychology.”)

As for effect sizes: they are small. This handy website revealed that, if you pick a random woman and man from my sample, the woman would report a greater likelihood of leaving 56% of the time, and a lower sense of efficacy also 56% of the time.

And then, of course, we can ask why the women feel less efficacious. When I read about “scholarly eminence” and discover that one way to get there is to “be a man”, well… I mostly feel like going somewhere else.




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