Why WAGES? A Demonstration.

Women have made tremendous strides in scientific fields since the 1970s. Women work hard and know what it takes to succeed. Most men do not want to be unfair and, in fact, know that gender equity benefits them, too, when their female partners and family members can advance and be paid fairly. Despite women’s hard work and men’s good will, however, gender-related inequities in opportunity, advancement, and salary persist in nearly every industry and profession studied. 

Three Scenarios

Think about how you would handle each of the following situations. Then click on Food for Thought for additional ideas.

Scenario A

You are chair of Department Y’s search committee for one of three new tenure-line positions. You are looking over the CVs of the top 10 candidates to recommend three to be brought in for interview. Three of the ten candidates are women. You want to be sure that all candidates are fairly evaluated.

How can you be sure that both search and selection process are fair?

Food for Thought
  • We know that when candidates are compared on a case-by-case basis it is easy to overlook or explain away qualifications that don’t match our expectations. University of Michigan’s ADVANCE program has developed a “candidate evaluation tool” that helps search committees maintain the objectivity they strive for: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/advance/STRIDE_Committee
  • Ensuring equity in a search starts long before the long short-list is developed. Getting a large, qualified, and diverse pool of applicants means more than advertising in the usual places and contacting colleagues for nominees. Instead, an effective search needs to tap into networks that don’t overlap greatly with your own.
  • What proportion of the candidate pool nationally is comprised of women? Does three out of 10 represent at least the availability of potential women applicants? If not, it may be useful to go through applications again to determine whether a high quality candidate from an underrepresented group may have been overlooked.
  • Watch out for “diffusion of responsibility.” It may be tempting to think that, because there are 3 searches underway, a more diverse pool of qualified applicants will automatically occur. Not so. Each individual search committee must work to cast a wide net.

Scenario B

You have been tapped to be on the selection committee for the Prestigious Publication Prize of an important professional society. Candidates for the prize can be nominated by others or be self-nominations. The other members of the committee are respected colleagues you’ve known for years and you feel good about how well the group works together. You are looking over the final list of award candidates.

How can you be sure that the selection process is fair?

Food for Thought
  • Ensuring equity in a search starts long before the review of nominations gets underway. Ensuring the best nominations means more than advertising in the usual places and contacting colleagues for nominees. Instead, an effective search needs to tap into networks that don’t overlap greatly with your own.
  • Understand that members of some groups are more willing to self-nominate than are others and this can influence both who is in the pool of nominees and what the committee sees as fitting the norm for nominees.
  • Case-by-case comparisons of individual nominees are difficult to do objectively. The power of stereotypes and other cognitive shortcuts, combined with the apples vs. oranges nature of piecemeal information, is a sure recipe to lead us to ignore information that doesn’t fit with pre-existing knowledge.

Scenario C

You learn that in a department very much like your own, one of the senior men is paid somewhat more than a senior woman. Both were hired by University of Great Importance in the same year when both were just completing two year post-docs. The man has a few more publications than the woman, but in all other respects she has the same or better qualifications.

Is it possible to rule out salary discrimination by taking a good, close look at the two faculty members’ CVs?

Food for Thought
  • We know that when candidates are compared on a case-by-case basis it is easy to overlook or explain away qualifications that don’t match our expectations. Scenario C points out that the man has a few more publications than the woman and so it is easy to assume that quantity of publications is the driving force behind the salary difference. There are two problems with this.
    • First, of course, is that quantity, by itself, tells us nothing about the quality, significance, impact of the publications or the individual’s role in the project if the publication is co-authored.
    • Second, and perhaps less obvious, Scenario C also notes that the woman “in all other respects…has the same or better qualifications.” Which qualifications are better?
  • In order to determine whether inequity exists, we need to go beyond the individual case and begin to look at aggregated data to see whether there are, in fact, patterns that suggest inequity. In the case of individuals, the comparisons need to be made within the same domain, not across domains. So, in Scenario C, we won’t learn much from comparing his publication list with her grants.