KHOSLA: Commenting on gender inequality

As I sat in the depths of Bass late on a Sunday night, I procrastinated on my problem set by reading the comments on an article in The New York Times. Scrolling through, I found a comment from username “Jay”: “Men actually have some traits (drive, aggressiveness, inventiveness, creativity) that are not captured in resumes and which exceed those of women, and the professors recognize that and rationally favor men over women with equal resumes.”

This Times article described the September 2012 Yale gender bias study. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Yale researchers sent fake lab manager applications to over 130 faculty members at universities across the United States. All the resumes were identical, except one critical change: Half the applications had the first name John, and the other half, Jennifer.

This little change — the switch from four letters to eight, and from XY chromosomes to XX — made all the difference. A statistically significant majority of the participants in this study rated the female applicant as less competent than the male applicant, and in cases where the faculty would hire Jennifer, her starting salary was $26,508 compared to John’s $30,328.

But wait, John and Jennifer were identical in their accomplishments, identical in all but their names.

So it was Jay I thought of while sitting in physics lecture, when I received the email about the Women’s Faculty Forum (WFF) panel discussion on racial and gender-based diversity at Yale.

Gender disparity in academia is real. There is science revealing it, and there are firsthand accounts to back it up. But it’s comments like Jay’s that are the root of the issue. The complete disregard for the very real glass ceiling in our society that keeps women from being welcome and able to enter into higher ranks of academia and leadership is the problem. The fact that anyone actually believes that men have superior innate abilities shows the ignorance still invasive in our society.

Other comments cited the fact that leaders throughout history have largely been male — confusing genetic superiority with societal obstacles to female success. One post claimed that women are unwilling to work long night hours and come into the office whenever they’re needed. Another comment explained that women are not aggressive enough or assertive enough to be competitive for certain positions only suitable for bold, commanding men. Women get pregnant “too often,” a final comment offered, so they are economic burdens to a work environment. If a company has “extra space and resources,” one comment read, they should go ahead and hire women, but it is not feasible for the basic necessities of a firm.

Wait, so my success is a charity case?

If these people had a background in psychology, they’d know that their comments are perfect examples of the fundamental attribution error. But my more pressing concern is that these views are not anomalous. They exist around us, and this misinformation and ignorance is the source of the virus that will continue to infect our societies with inequality if we don’t circulate knowledge.

At the WFF, some standout initiatives to combat gender disparity included improving day care and paternity leave options for families — invalidating the claim that women should not be hired because they’ll have to leave work to take care of kids. (Dean Mary Miller humorously noted that almost all the children of Yale faculty members have birthdays during summer, academic leave and holidays. Professors have to fit childbirth into Yale’s schedule, after all, right?)

Another solution was Yale’s initiative to educate all faculty members on the social science data revealing gender bias in academia, through workshops and discussions. This would create a baseline level of knowledge in our academic community.

Finally, professor Priya Natarajan commented on the need for not just mentors, but sponsors for aspiring academics. Guest speakers who come to Yale always cite a certain mentor who opened the door to opportunities for them. In a world where men dominate most realms of the professional sphere, the only way women will have an equal chance is by creating a system for meaningful sponsorship and mentorship.

If Yale and President-elect Peter Salovey are serious about the initiatives that were discussed at the panel, then I am hopeful that Yale may finally be considering gender inequality as a pressing issue. I can only hope that we are not hiring or breeding future Jay commentators, and that all Johns and Jennifers at Yale and beyond are judged by their merits, not their sexes.

Natalia Khosla is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at natalia.khosla@yale.edu .

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