Teaching accreditation exams reveal grading biases favor women in male-dominated disciplines in France

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Science  29 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6298, pp. 474-478
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4372

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Signaling ability and grit to academia

In many professions, getting ahead requires evidence of both effort and ability. This is especially true if one is not a member of the dominant group and thus surmounting social norms. Breda and Hillion show that oral examiners of candidates for teaching positions in the French education system reward such applicants. Specifically, women applying for high-level teaching positions in male-dominated fields, such as physics and philosophy, are favored, as are men who apply in female-dominated fields, such as literature and foreign languages.

Science, this issue p. 474


Discrimination against women is seen as one of the possible causes behind their underrepresentation in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects. We show that this is not the case for the competitive exams used to recruit almost all French secondary and postsecondary teachers and professors. Comparisons of oral non–gender-blind tests with written gender-blind tests for about 100,000 individuals observed in 11 different fields over the period 2006–2013 reveal a bias in favor of women that is strongly increasing with the extent of a field’s male-domination. This bias turns from 3 to 5 percentile ranks for men in literature and foreign languages to about 10 percentile ranks for women in math, physics, or philosophy. These findings have implications for the debate over what interventions are appropriate to increase the representation of women in fields in which they are currently underrepresented.

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