Equipping over 500 employees with interactive sensors, the Harvard based team of  Stephen Truban, Laura Freeman and Ben Waber tracked the behaviors, communications and positions of women and men across all sectors of management in an effort to find rate limiting steps to promoting, retaining and rewarding women. Until this study, the majority of information used to break the glass ceiling was gathered largely from antidotal sources.

While this study was done in a business environment, there are more than enough parallels between their sampling and academia to make reasonable extrapolations from the data they gathered.  Like business, women in STEM are massively underrepresented in key leadership positions and are funded, promoted, retained and paid less than male colleagues. They also hold fewer endowed chairs, associate and full professorships.

After four months of monitoring emails, meetings and communication, the results were unequivocal. “Gender inequality <in salary, promotion and retention> is due to bias, not differences in behavior” the authors concluded. “Bias, as we define it is when two groups of people act identically but are treated differently”

Ouch. That’s not good news and will certainly take the wind out of the sails of those who encourage women to ‘lean in’ more.

Speaking to next steps, Turban et al suggested putting hard goals in place for the numbers of women that should be in senior positions and enforcing pay equity. This, of course, would require a degree of transparency in compensation that few companies and universities observe. One would hope that  this data will go a long way to dismantling several myths about why women aren’t in key leadership roles.

In the meantime, if you aren’t convinced that women in STEM are subject to systematic discrimination, be sure you check out the ample evidence over on Women in STEM Resources where a mountain of data is being accumulated. Also, Truban, Freeman and Waber run a great Gender page with insights galore on Harvard Business Review.


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