The science behind diverse shortlists

During the debate on diversity the speeches on all sides were so moving that I felt compelled to share some of the science behind WHY we needed this motion and why I am so proud of everyone who spoke in that debate.

Studies show that from birth, girls lose out to boys. In the ‘Baby X’ trials where a baby is referred to as ‘Dana’ or ‘David, or dressed in pink or blue irrespective of their gender, adults treat the babies differently.

At the age of 11 months, in studies where mothers are asked to estimate their infants’ crawling ability on a sloped walkway, mothers of boys over estimate and mothers of girls under estimate how well their child will do. Parents’ beliefs about what their child is capable of influences what parents expect of their children.

The reason for this, according to Professor Virginia Valian in her book ‘Why so Slow‘ is due to gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage.  Gender schemas are cognitive constructs that lead to over-valuations of men and under-valuations of women.This misevaluation occurs despite the intention to measure actual achievement. Most people sincerely mean to be meritocratic, and ignore gender, ethnicity, or disability, when making judgments. But the data suggest people overrate some groups and underrate others.

Many instances of evaluation are small and seemingly unimportant, such as not being listened to in a meeting. But they add up over time to create more and more advantage for men and less and less advantage for women.  Success is simply the accumulation of advantage – Merton called it the Matthew effect.

It is easy to dismiss concern about such imbalances as making a mountain out of a molehill. But mountains are molehills, piled one on top of the other over time. Then the gender schemas and the accumulation of advantage intersect with each other.

In selections, women are in a difficult position.  If they’re not perceived as competent they won’t get selected.  But if they make their competence clear, they’ll also be downgraded. This is because in the case of professional competence, perceptions are prone to error.  We overvalue men and undervalue women. We know this from experiments on judgments of women.

One study by Heilman investigated how men and women rated people who were described as being an Assistant Vice President in a company.  Evaluators read background information on the person, the job, and the company.  In half the cases, the person was described as about to have a performance review; so in this condition, evaluators didn’t know how well the person did their job.  In the other half of the cases, the person was described as a stellar performer.  The evaluators had to rate how competent the employees were and how likeable they were.

When evaluators had no information about how well people did their job, they rated the man as more competent than the woman, and rated them as equally likeable.  When information said the individuals were very competent, evaluators rated the man and woman as equally competent, but rated the woman as much less likeable than the man.  They also perceived the woman as more hostile than the man.

So in evaluating a woman, observers see her as less competent than a similar man unless there’s clear information that she’s competent.  In which case, they see her as less likeable. Likeability matters. We can’t tell women just to be competent, because likeability can make the difference in whether or not people get rewards, or votes.

Women don’t get the rewards take pay for example. Women have less money than men shown in data from the Household Panel Study. When they start work, men and women have similar earnings, but 10 yrs later women are behind men. Women’s wages grow more slowly than men’s after 10 yrs of being employed. Women’s pay lags behind men even if they’ve been employed full-time, have no children, and don’t plan to have any. Women with degrees make 30% less than men with similar degrees.

Add to this, interactional unfairness, with examples like rudeness or inattention, being spoken to condescendingly, being interrupted, happen to both men and women, to white and BME people.  It doesn’t look on the surface as if it’s gender- or ethnicity-specific; anyone can be the target.  But women are more likely than men to be the targets. Here, too, it is a case of small examples that mount up over time – an accumulation of disadvantage both in terms of how others perceive someone and, eventually, how we perceive ourselves.

We like to think our liberal ideals buffer us from the effects of gender schemas. But our reactions occur unintentionally and outside awareness. Our bias is unconscious.

We don’t have to feel guilty, but we do need to take responsibility for change. The good news about this problem is that when we intervene, we can do some good (it is why in the sciences programmes like Athena SWAN in the UK and the Gender Equity Project exist in the USA).

Bell hooks argued that: love can’t work in a society that is based on rigid gender roles and the aggression and power imbalances that come with them. We know that Liberalism can work in our society, and for our society, by rebalancing power. The Party’s vote for the motion rebalances, in a tiny way, power in the right direction.

 

* Belinda Brooks-Gordon was #3 on the EU list in 2014, was a Cambridgeshire County Councillor, and is now an elected member of ALDE Council.

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38 Comments

  • David Evershed 16th Mar '16 - 10:44am

    Voters will have all sorts of conscious or unconscious biases, justified and unjustified. We should not judge them.

    But when selecting a Lib Dem candidate we should take into account the perceptions which electors will have of the candidate if we want to win the seat.

    We have to accept people are as they are and not how we would wish them to be.

  • Helen Tedcastle 16th Mar '16 - 11:33am

    ‘ Studies show that from birth, girls lose out to boys. In the ‘Baby X’ trials where a baby is referred to as ‘Dana’ or ‘David, or dressed in pink or blue irrespective of their gender, adults treat the babies differently.’

    I remember reading this kind of sociological analysis twenty five years ago as an undergraduate, and it made sense.

    Then I helped bring up my two nephews for a while and realised that boys are indeed not the same as girls. Their obsession with wheels and diggers, their enjoyment of rough and tumble etc… this is innate.

    Equal but we are not the same. I’m not afraid of saying that. It needs to be said because it is the truth.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 16th Mar '16 - 12:27pm

    Grateful for the comments.
    David: You are right in that we should not judge, and we should also stay true to our principles, the evidence, and should try and educate.
    Helen: I have a lovely picture of two little boys having a great time with their toys. What science does is show how adults respond and reinforce these. It also show girls tend not to be given toys that ‘do things’ rather than those which are passive, and with large samples. It also shows (‘Mismeasure of Man’ by Stephen J Gould is good on this) how tests by which people are measured then are standardised on one ideal (that of white western men) and that of innateness.

  • “The experiments used are described more fully in Professor Valian’s lecture at Birkbeck on 3 March 2016, along with many more. This will be available to view on the Birkbeck website soon.”

    It would be good to have sources identified rather than appearing some point in the future. As the data that is presented is rather disputed, so I’ll leave that until there is sufficient detail to address.

    “individuals were very competent, evaluators rated the man and woman as equally competent, but rated the woman as much less likeable”
    This is an issue that to me would seem amplified in the LibDems as the party had an image (and an even more extreme self image) of “niceness” where “likeability” matters a great deal.

    I know a few people who are big fans of Theresa May, I have never heard them describe a key quality they see in her as “likability.” Equally I know a number of people who voted for the Tories under Thatcher, due to her, many of them considered her “unlikable” but they supported her.

    There is lots of talk of “unconscious bias training” for party members while ignoring you will not be compelling voters to undergo it. Perhaps the important point about this unconscious bias is not to compensate for it in selection that will then not be compensated for in the voters, the better way is to work out a way to use that unconscious bias to present female candidates in a way that makes them appeal to voters not that makes them “likable” I have voted for many candidates I wouldn’t want to spend lots of time with because they looked like they would be good at the job.

    “In selections, women are in a difficult position”

    One issue that was raised in the endless discussions about selection (admittedly not directly on the AWS topic) was whether the current selection process was the best to show the skills someone will need to be a successful candidate and effective MP. This topic has been completely untouched. The assumption seems to have been more women selected will automatically result in more women elected, the problem is not that simple for a minor party. There are many areas to address but all focus has been on a solution that has potentially significant unintended consequences for the women who do put themselves forward.

    “bell hooks argued”

    Quoting a Marxist as an appeal to authority to make a case for a liberal position seems odd. If there is a liberal case just state it.

  • Would Dr Brooks-Gordon support encouraging members of the Travellers community (regardless of gender) to stand as possible Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, or would she jwant to make sure that they just move on ?

  • Simon Thorley 16th Mar '16 - 1:47pm

    “When they start work, men and women have similar earnings, but 10 yrs later women are behind men. Women’s wages grow more slowly than men’s after 10 yrs of being employed.” This is not accurate. Women who have started work in the past ~20 years (i.e. those aged 20 – 39 ish now) earn more than men in that group do, cet par. Women who started work more than ~20 years ago earn less than men in the same group, cet par. These are two separate cohorts!

    Also, pay is only one of the utility calculations an individual makes when choosing one job or another (flexibility, for eg, is another ‘payment’ received as part of a work package; it is a trade-off against salary in most cases).

  • Simon Thorley 16th Mar '16 - 1:50pm

    I should add, my point about the inaccurate use of data is presuming you don’t have a radical new source of data to add to the body of research on this point. In which case – fair point!

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 17th Mar '16 - 12:03am

    Mark: 1: Girls and boys do maths and physics in roughly equal numbers until ‘A’ level and then it drops off a cliff – this limits the subjects they can study. In Computer Sciences for example, there are still small numbers of women, as there are on Maths degrees, Engineering, and quite a few more. I don’t therefore agree that they are outperforming boys ‘at every educational up to PhD’. It is simply not the case when nearly a third of the subjects are closed off to them. The figures I quoted take account of prestige of university
    2: On pay, in addition of Household Panel, Prof Valian took National Science Foundation data looking at median salaries of doctoral scientists and engineers employed full time in 4-year institutions, by years since doctorate ( 2013) as well as estimated salary differences between women and men with highest degree in Science & Engineering employed full time, controlling for selected characteristic, by degree level (2010). I will give the further references below. I had sent in the post with footnotes they were chopped off (note to self do weblinks next time and hope no paywall!).

    Condry, J. and Condry, S. (1976) Sex differences: A study in the eye of the beholder. Child Development, 47, 812-819.
    Smith, C. and Lloyd, B.B. (1978) Maternal behaviour and perceived sex of infant. Child Development, 49, 1263-1265.
    Mondschein, E. R., Adolph, K. E, & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2000) Gender bias in mothers’ expectations about infant crawling. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 77(4), 304-316.
    Merton, R. K. (1968). The Matthew effect in science. Science, 159(3810), 56-63.
    Heilman, M. E., Wallen, A. S., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. M. (2004). Penalties for success: reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 416-427.
    Manning, A. and Swaffield, J. (2008) The gender pay gap in early career wage growth. The Economic Journal, 118 (530), 983-1024.
    Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64
    Lerner, (1975) The Belief in a Just World. A Fundamental Delusion. New York. Plenum.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 17th Mar '16 - 12:16am

    PSI: You have a made a point on likeability that could be very compelling to a Liberal – i.e. that with the Tories (to be crude) nastiness is factored in, so a perceived lower likeability factor would be less likely to be held against a Tory female candidate than LibDem woman. Except that the studies show it is a factor – when you think about it, Thatcher went for many selections before being selected – there were of course many overt biases and much overt discrimination operating then but the studies are showing overall effects.
    The tape of Prof Valian’s lecture is just waiting for me to check it through – so I will go through it at the weekend and it will go up on Monday. How does that sound?
    You made a really good point about the current selection process. In held seats, the final hustings is the thing that can be the decider – and this is a more masculine way of demonstrating skills. Women are usually better at more intimate media like radio or tv interviews one-to-one. I certainly think that these should be explored.
    I quoted bell hooks as an intersectional feminist – not a Marxist. She, like many lib dems, will wear a number of hats. A closer reading of what I wrote would show that I put her words in counterpoint to Liberalism i.e. ‘ she argued..’ but ‘we know’ rather than using her words as per your first reading.

  • Geoff: creepy men (and to some extent people of other genders) are present as a minority in any place where there are large numbers of human beings. They’re (in my experience) a smaller minority in the lib dems than in other groups, in my experience, but smaller is not non-existent.

    They join the lib dems for the same reason they join any other group: they feel some sort of affinity for some of the aims of the group, and they think they can get away with being creepy – mostly because, in most cases, they can. They don’t get reported, or if they do get reported their victims get dismissed, or it gets covered up, and because we (rightly) insist on a high standard of proof for sanctions even in the rare cases that the complaint isn’t dismissed or covered up, it’s unlikely to succeed, all of which is well known to women in general and that’s why we don’t bother reporting, we just tell each other to steer clear of X or Y person because he’s a bit handsy.

    The root and branch reform of not just the party, but British culture in general that would cure this situation is indeed one of the aims of the party, in a nebulous sort of way. But I have never seen any suggestion of an effective way of reforming either the party or society which would mean that this situation is no longer just the way things are.

  • I voted for Amendment 1 at York, partly out of loyalty to the East Midlands region, which developed it, but also because I am not looking forward to implementing the tortuous processes involved in the AWS motion. It will entail a good deal of deft footwork, the availability of a calculator and even more diplomacy in the processes of recruitment and selection.

    The point is well made by Geoff Payne that we need to have more women in the membership to create a larger reservoir from which female candidates can emerge. More women than men will say, I think, ‘I don’t go in for politics’. It must be admitted that politics at any level can be quite harsh; and party politics, putting people into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ categories, is an unacceptably negative way of doing things. (I think that the same applies to Christians, who are schooled in the idea, at least, of loving everyone. As a church minister I experience some of these feelings, and am pleased to find myself collaborating at present with people on ‘Europe’ and on ‘climate change’ who are necessarily my enemy in actual elections. Is this my ‘feminine side’? I think so, and I want to honour it in myself and in others.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon

    I appear to have misunderstood your point you were trying to make with bell hooks, though I still find it odd when people bother quoting Marxists as they tend to see everything via a world view based upon conflict which is a very skewed perspective.

    The selection process is one of many points that have been made during the discussion of AWS that seem to have been ignored. There are a number of matters that had potential to be improvements (not just for women but all round getting the best outcome), for example the issue of child care for parents , Maternity leave-esk arrangements for PPCs (and presumably other election candidates) leave made by Ruth Bright. It is a bit of an indictment of the LibDems that there are clear steps that can be made to improve the situation but wouldn’t have a “big bang” show and those have been ignored while the AWS issue has been banged on about endlessly.

    The claim has been “cultural change” will be achieved by some “big bang” when from my experience the opposite is the case, big bangs often result in little but a mass of little improvements stands a good chance of working. It seems few people on here bothered to read the conservative home article on how they won the last election, the point made was the “A List” was actually not very important but a lot of soft power exerted by the central party was more effective.

  • Belinda, you responded to Psi on his query on the evidence, but haven’t responded to Mark Wright’s. As a party we are supposed to believe in evidence policy making, but very often I see evidence only being quoted that supports a member’s instinctive view while ignoring other peoples’ evidence that runs counter to that opinion. When we are discussing a motion that those supporting it proposed was to overcome Selection Bias, it is very disappointing to see its supporters engaging in their own form of Selection Bias.

  • Sorry, last sentence was omitted, should have included – I trust yours will not be another example of this.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon

    Re: the “likeability” factor

    I think to simplify the issue of likeability to the tories having it “factored in” over simplifies it. I picked extreme example of Thatcher and May given the strength of dislike for them in a number of quarters but there are Women in Labour or the SNP who people can still not find likable but still consider worth voting for to represent them.

    It is unfortunately a factor that I think the Likability issue for the party as a whole had become one of the stongest impressions up to 2015. I would say the Paddy’s (or briefly Ming’s) image was less dominated by likability than Charles Kennedy or Tim Farron’s (Nick seems to have been all over the place interms of peoples impression of him). It seems that LibDem MPs have tended to have a high likability factor (Shirley Williams, Jo Swinson) so the stereotype is for female candidates to be that way. I think it would be good to have stereotype that is less dominated by likability (though not one which is unlikeable), as I would say other opposition parties have.

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Mar '16 - 12:19pm

    ‘ What science does is show how adults respond and reinforce these. It also show girls tend not to be given toys that ‘do things’ rather than those which are passive, and with large samples’

    Science shows many things depending on the kind of research questions asked in the first place. Even social scientists and scientists have unconscious biases.

    As I pointed out, I read many books and papers about the socialisation of girls and boys and tried very hard to eradicate my ‘unconscious biases’ when helping to bring up my nephews. They were dressed in ‘gender neutral colours and given choices about the kind of toys they played with. I watched very carefully how I spoke to them so as not to pass on unconscious stereotypes. I could not be responsible for other people’s behaviour but as a significant adult in their lives, they would have been influenced to some extent by my own behaviour and example.

    So why did they instinctively go for machines with wheels given the choice, why did they like to play rough and tumble, why did they have an instinctive sense of being a boy and not a girl?

    It seems to me that the assumption of many social scientists is that girls and boys emerge completely neutral, a blank canvas, and only choose toys and clothes approved of by adults – and that this causes them directly to become biased themselves, the victims of bias mainly being girls and women.

    I would suggest that the problems women face in the board room have much more to do with the teenage years and the detachment from the nurturing home (traditionally with the mother at the centre) to make their way in society as a male than they have with the nursery.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    I found what you written there incredibly interesting, especially the bit:

    “It seems to me that the assumption of many social scientists is that girls and boys emerge completely neutral, a blank canvas, and only choose toys and clothes approved of by adults – and that this causes them directly to become biased themselves, the victims of bias mainly being girls and women.”

    We have twin girls, when they were at an age where they could play with “normal” (i.e. not baby) toys we went down the charity shop and bought a box job lot (it was a mish mash). The eldest poked about and dug out some dolls and clothes, the younger one dug out a small tonka toy truck which became her pride and joy for quite some time. This state of affairs carried on for a long time, one was very girlie and the other was more tomboyish.

    When they started playing with other children the eldest (who tended to be more outgoing) gravitated towards other girls, her sister tended to tag on as well. At that point we did notice that she started to take more interest in girls toys, I would guess that there was some sort of need for acceptance going on (said he, not knowing anything about these things). However it can’t have all been a one way thing, because they are obviously each others most frequent play mate they both seem to like playing with either girl or boy toys (which dad likes as he gets to have a Scalextric).

    I should add that I don’t think we were somehow unique, when you have twins you seem to notice that there are loads of them out there, when swapping stories you find that this sort of thing seems quite common in multiple births (anecdotal evidence obviously).

    I think your earlier point seems to nail it quite nicely “Equal but we are not the same. I’m not afraid of saying that. It needs to be said because it is the truth.”

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Mar '16 - 8:19pm

    Dr. Belinda

    I admire you and your work ,and, like my fellow party colleague , Mark Wright, above , regularly welcome your contributions to any forum.I too would like to add something , though, because of your comment about the educational attainment of girls . It not being as bright a spot as Mark , correctly , in my view , states, is based , you say , on subjects girls are not excelling as much in, maths , science , computers, engineering.Why then say these subjects are cut off from them, as you do ?Girls are free to choose those subjects , but do not, in as large a number as boys, apparently .

    Is it not possible that whether nurture or nature , gender influences interest in subjects?Is that so big a deal ?As a boy and man I was and am lousy in any or all of those areas, alluded to already . Oh and I mean lousy ! But I was and am , ever a natural in creative, arts ,social science and humanities subjects .I was lousy ,in the sense of zero interest or aptitude , in sport , yet I am a vegetarian , non driver, health conscious.

    What does any of that say to me ?

    The fact is , surely , we are what we are , based on much more than gender norms , because we are all a mixture of much else , and of both, genders ! See, come to think of it , I do know some science !

  • Helen Tedcastle 17th Mar '16 - 11:01pm

    @Chris_sh
    Thanks for your comment and your experience really resonates. Often I found that my nephews sought out the toys they wanted to play with and we went with it. They were not forced into playing with prescribed toys. If they didn’t like a toy it was soon dropped or discarded.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 17th Mar '16 - 11:38pm

    David: A reply had been made to Mark, but I think that there was a time delay in my response going up and your comment so I hope that you have seen that now.
    PSI: As regards Lib Dem party leaders’ likability scores I cannot comment on it as I do not have the data on them. Members may have, however.
    Lorenzo: There are a variety of reasons as to why girls study these subjects less, and yes it matters because the jobs are then closed off to them, but also it means that these areas miss out on having that diversity of input. This means the design, manufacture, and technical specifications of many products for example are then geared around one gender – white western men. This is only one example but it illustrates that things can be improved with better gender balance all round.

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Mar '16 - 7:40am

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    We can all undertake our observational studies on newborns and children.I I have been fascinated by the way gendered attributions have been made to the behaviour of even neonates, I am as guilty as the next person, but I still refuse to accept that there are not innate differences.

    There might be those who believe that we are born tabula rasa and the outcome of environmental factors,but I am not one of them. As you say, we struggle to overcome our own unconscious biases but my own experience of child rearing and care has been that children are born with distinct little characters and how they turn out is a combination of innate and environmental factors. How much of which contributes to what sort of person we become has never exercised me much , because the environmental factors are the only ones we can change so it would be a meaningless exercise.

    I really don’t think that as women women we are going to get very far if we continue with the idea that the difference between the sexes is simply socialisation. Females have different hormones, we give birth, we suckle our young we have limitations on the time where we can reproduce.

    In my opinion, we need a society with institutions that are structured to take account of our differences and do not discriminate against us because of them. What is the point of women who break through a ‘glass ceiling’, if they do so by thinking or behaving in ways that are considered traditionally male? We may as well stick with what we have got.

  • @Jayne Mansfield
    “What is the point of women who break through a ‘glass ceiling’, if they do so by thinking or behaving in ways that are considered traditionally male? We may as well stick with what we have got.”
    Couldn’t agree more

  • @Belinda Brooks-Gordo 17th Mar ’16 – 12:03am
    “Girls and boys do maths and physics in roughly equal numbers until ‘A’ level and then it drops off a cliff – this limits the subjects they can study.
    So what does research have to say about the reasons for this cliff?

    In Computer Sciences for example, there are still small numbers of women, as there are on Maths degrees, Engineering, and quite a few more. I don’t therefore agree that they are outperforming boys ‘at every educational up to PhD’.
    Numbers of students studying a particular subject is different to performance.
    Yes, it is unfortunate that even after all these decades there are still too few women studying STEM subjects at University; because in my experience I’ve found those who do graduate in these subjects to be very capable and not short of good job offers; unlike some of the men who took the same course.

    It is simply not the case when nearly a third of the subjects are closed off to them.
    Unless you can provide evidence of bias in the selectors, I suggest these subjects have been closed because the student has chosen a different path…

    “2: On pay, … as well as estimated salary differences between women and men with highest degree in Science & Engineering employed full time, controlling for selected characteristic, by degree level (2010).”,
    Note the highlighted word, this effectively renders the findings valueless.

  • This s very frustrating, I don’t know how long the 12:03 post by Belinda Brooks-Gordon was stuck in the LDV filter, I had completely missed it.

    I had thought there would be more evidence I hadn’t heard before unfortunately nothing new. I think on that basis the points raised by Mark Wright stand as no evidence appeas to have been presented to refuthe them. I will add a fe numbers grabbed from the HESA, Female % for students (all levels):
    58% – Medicine & dentistry
    80% – Subjects allied to medicine
    62% – Biological sciences
    74% – Veterinary science
    61% – Agriculture & related subjects
    41% – Physical sciences
    39% – Mathematical sciences
    19% – Computer science
    18% – Engineering & technology
    38% – Architecture, building & planning
    51% – Total – Science subject areas

    To put science to one side and look at the rest of the subject areas:
    62% – Social studies
    60% – Law
    52% – Business & administrative studies
    62% – Mass communications & documentation
    70% – Languages
    53% – Historical & philosophical studies
    64% – Creative arts & design
    76% – Education
    61% – Combined
    57% – Total – all subject areas

    Roland

    I know you are repeting the often quoted stamen when you say:
    “Yes, it is unfortunate that even after all these decades there are still too few women studying STEM subjects at University”
    Given that women make up 51% of Science & Technology related courses I don’t know what would count as “enough” women studying them. Of course if you exclude all the subjectas at the top of the list and just look at the 5 categories where men make the majority you will see “too few women” but it is a little like monitoring the number of men going in to the mens toilet in a train station and coming to the conclusion men go to the toilet too often because you barely ever see a women there.

  • Regarding pay, you quote the theory from the 1998 book, which appears (from your description) to suggest that the employers are actually taking identical people doing identical jobs and value the women less.

    I would suggest an alternative source for understanding the difference, freakonomics radio did a good simple overview with Claudia Goldin who has covered this significantly:
    http://freakonomics.com/podcast/the-true-story-of-the-gender-pay-gap-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

    Regarding the likability point again, the key point I was trying to pick out was that perhaps being seen as less “likeable” should be harnessed by female candidates who have demonstrated great competence. So much of this debate appears to circle around how how the world as it is has challenges and it would be nice if they were not there. Perhaps if more effort was put in to how to create opportunities from those and turn the situations to candidates advantage then we may see progress. As it is there appears to be a lot of wanting the world to be different rather than making use of how it is to achieve the desired outcome. Well that and dreaming of some imagined future culture change that will spontaneously arrive out of one “big bang” policy change.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 21st Mar '16 - 2:28pm

    Wow, this has been a good discussion, and I am grateful to all of you who have posted. I’ll try and round up a few comments.
    Roland: It is well worth reading Prof Valian’s book as it covers much other evidence.
    PSI: If you remove the nebulous ‘subjects allied to medicine’ which does not count in most universities as a STEM subject, then it would be less than half. What is interesting too, is that even in medicine and vet med. where women outnumber male applicants. The number of women consultants, professors etc., is woefully small.
    Helen and Jayne: Re nature/nurture there are instances in the workplace where biological differences – and indeed biological advantage – to do a job seems to be outweighed by socialisation. One example is shooting. If a man and woman have never picked up a gun before, a woman is likely to be the better shot. This is because women’s bodies have, on average, a lower centre of gravity and lower pulse rates. It represents, if you like, a biologically pre-disposed advantage. Despite this women make up tiny numbers of those in police forces on diplomatic protection or armed squads. So there is something interesting going on that overtakes the innate advantage women have for certain roles.

  • Paul Holmes 21st Mar '16 - 3:13pm

    But I’m sure I have also read evolutionary biologists argue as follows. Over a Million years or more, men were traditionally (generally speaking bigger, stronger, faster, not pregnant, not carrying suckling young) the Hunters and so natural selection favoured men with, for example, better eye sight, quicker reactions to moving targets, better hand to eye co ordination and so on.

    No idea what empirical evidence if any there is for that, but if so whilst your factors would favour stationery Target Shooting they would not count in the same way in a fast moving combat situation. What is the evidence as opposed to assertion? Do women consistently score more highly than men at Bisley or in Olympic Target Shooting?

    Obviously whatever the evidence on that is there is no doubt that cultural factors are also present. Hence the recent fuss about plans to allow women to enter front line infantry combat roles in the UK army even though that has long been the absolute norm in the Israeli armed forces.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon

    I’m not sure I’m completely convinced by the “If you remove the nebulous ‘subjects allied to medicine’ which does not count in most universities as a STEM subject” without more clarification as to why it is normally excluded.

    It appears the subjects classified include [list shortened to fit]:
    Anatomy
    Physiology
    Pathology
    Cellular pathology
    Pathobiology
    Neuroscience
    Physiotherapy
    Pharmacology
    Toxicology
    Pharmacy
    Herbalism
    Hypnotherapy
    Nutrition
    Dietetics
    Ophthalmics
    Optometry
    Orthoptics
    Ophthalmics not elsewhere classified
    Nursing
    Midwifery
    Paediatric nursing
    Adult nursing
    Geriatric nursing
    Dental nursing
    Cardiography
    Radiology
    Radiography

    Now some of those subjects I can see a good reason to exclude (Herbalism & Hypnotherapy etc), others I don’t (Cellular pathology, Pathobiology, Neuroscience etc). For the most part I think the subjects I would certainly exclude would be small as a proportion of the total. If for example someone were to be wanting to exclude Nursing and Radiology for example I would start to question a number of other fields that has been selected to be included in STEM. Exactly which courses are counted under Computer Science; Engineering & Technology; or Architecture, building & planning could easily have a number which would start to look a bit odd. But as I have just grabbed some high level numbers I can’t easily dig in to the detail.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordon

    “The number of women consultants, professors etc., is woefully small.”

    And it is interesting to know how much of the disparity is due to which factor, we can’t effect the numbers of people qualified since the 70’s/80’s but may be able to do something about the next rising layer, sadly most discussion focuses on high level numbers trying to make the case that there is a problem (which there will be), when it is more important to know what the problems are (including the size of each) and what would be effective at addressing them.

  • Belinda Brooks-Gordo 21st Mar '16 - 11:54pm

    Psi: well that is what Valian goes into in detail in her book – showing when certain variables controlled how much other variables predict the effect. There are some links in this bibliography commentators here may be interested in.
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/03/08/gender-bias-in-academe-an-annotated-bibliography/
    Paul: I am not sure what the evolutionary biologists are predicting these days (but women have better eyesight generally due to men’s higher tendency to have red/green colour blindness which would be fairly problematic in a berry eating hunter/gatherer society.)

  • Helen Tedcastle,

    You can make very sure to avoid sex stereotyping when you play with your own children, as we did. But can you keep them insulated from all advertising, all books written more than twenty years ago, all the neighbours’ children, and all the nurseries, playgroups and schools where stereotyping is routine? If you can do that, you’re going to have some pretty badly socialised kids!

    I’m not saying that there aren’t innate differences between boys and girls – I suspect there are. But most of the differences you see, even in your own children, are very much influenced by the society they grow up in.

    It’s getting worse. Our kids thirty years ago had a cheerful red-and-yellow tricycle which passed seamlessly from boy to girl. Shops know better now. If you only make blue trikes and pink trikes, you sell twice as many trikes!

  • “The science behind ‘diverse’ shortlists”. “Diverse” is, of course, the doublethink and doublespeak for the opposite of “diverse”!

    There is a lot of good science described here, and it supports positive action to help women overcome inherent selection bias. What it doesn’t support is an extremist, anti-democratic diktat!

  • The answer to your question Jo is because it is an easy thing to do. It won’t help us win a single extra seat and could even make it more difficult to hold those we have at the moment, but to those who consider a shortage of female Lib Dem candidates more important than the electoral collapse of the party it is a victory.

  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Mar '16 - 9:02am

    @ Belinda Brooks- Gordo,
    Thank you for this discussion and the links. It has been fascinating.

    I was unaware of the works of bell hooks, ( as someone who came of age during the 60’s it never ceases to amaze me that it took so long for some feminists to have the sensitivity to note that some women suffer multiple discriminations and have life experiences that differ from those of white, middle class, educated women.

    I need to read her work having been introduced to it on here, but in the meantime, the comment of hers that most resonates with me relates to equality, because I have never been convinced that the answer to the ‘gender problem’ is to seek equality with men. As she says, it is impossible because all men are not equal.

    I am going to have to read more of what bell hooks has to say about hierarchies and power. Although you say she is arguing from an intersectional perspective, I will be fascinated to find out in what way her approach differs from a structural marxist one.

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