Editor’s note: Meg Urry is the Israel Munson professor of physics and astronomy and chairwoman of the department of physics at Yale University, where she is the director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
By Meg Urry, Special to CNN
(CNN) – In 2001, I became the first tenured female faculty member ever in Yale’s physics department. Throughout my 30 years as a physicist, being the only woman in the room has been the norm. Women fill more than half of the jobs in the U.S. economy but constitute fewer than 12% of working physicists and engineers. For me and for others in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the dearth of women is not news.
Evidence shows that established scientists at top research universities – those choosing and training the next generation of STEM experts – unconsciously rate budding female scientists lower than men with identical credentials. They judge women less capable, less worthy of hiring and less deserving of mentoring. And they propose starting salaries that are on average 14% higher for men than for women.
The new study is the first to be done on STEM faculty rather than, as is more typical, college undergraduates. Hundreds of earlier studies on undergraduates established that the name on a résumé affects our perceptions. And that women and men both act with unconscious bias to privilege those who already dominate a specific field of work, whether that means preferring a man’s résumé for a job in physics or a woman’s for a job in nursing.