marie-currie.jpgI love that Waylon Jennings song, “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

Here’s one part of the song I found poignant today:

Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do,
Sometimes won’t know how to take him.

Unfortunately, cowboys aren’t the only ones with this problem. It’s also the case for female scientists. No one knows how to take them either.

A Yale study released Monday found there are a whole lot of people in science who just won’t give women a break when it comes to pay and career opportunities. They just don’t get or respect gals who pursue science as a profession.

The researchers at Yale asked “127 scientists to review a job application of identically qualified male and female students and found that the faculty members – both men and women – consistently scored a male candidate higher on a number of criteria such as competency and were more likely to hire the male.”

It’s disappointing findings for woman, and for the scientific community at large. And it makes you wonder how the heck things are going to change when it comes women finally advancing if scientists can’t overcome there own biases.

“Whenever I give a talk that mentions past findings of implicit gender bias in hiring, inevitably a scientist will say that can’t happen in our labs because we are trained to be objective. I had hoped that they were right,” said Jo Handelsman, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology (MCDB), a leading microbiologist, and national expert on science education. She’s also the lead author of the study that was published this week in the the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Alas, Handelsman found labs oozing with discrimination.

Both men and women science faculty were more likely to hire the male, ranked him higher in competency, and were willing to pay him $4000 more than the woman. They were also more willing to provide mentoring to the male than to the female candidate.

It’s a big kick in the pants to all those out there who claim it’s women’s career choices that keeps them out of the sciences and technology.

If you undermine women when they’re just starting out to find their way in their careers, and underpay them, don’t be surprised if they don’t stay in a profession.

“I think this shows just how subtle and pervasive these cultural stereotypes are,” said Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, a postdoctoral associate in MCDB and psychology.

Indeed, from scientific labs to the supervisory ranks of Walmart, women face strong biases that have been slow to dissipate despite the fact that more women are going to college today and they make up about half the workforce. The number of gender-based discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hit a record 28,372 in 2008, and have hovered at that mark ever since.

All this doesn’t mean women should shy away from a career in science, despite what my tongue-and-cheek headline says. This means women have to work harder to get what they want and to prove themselves. I know this sucks, but change wasn’t never easy for any oppressed group.

And I’m not letting the science community off the hook either. Time to take experiments conducted on all of you brainiacs seriously and let our baby girls grow up to be successful scientists.

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