Gender Discrimination

Double Standards and Pervasive Stereotypes Many years ago, Philip Goldberg (1968) asked students at a small women’s college to evaluate the content and writing style of some articles. When the material was supposedly written by John McKay rather than Joan McKay, it received higher rat- ings, a result that led Goldberg to wonder if even women were prejudiced against women. Certain other studies showed that people often attribute women’s achieve- ments to luck rather than ability.

These studies generated a lot of attention, but it now appears that this kind of devaluation of women is not commonly found in similar studies. More than 100 studies modeled after Goldberg’s indicate that people are not generally biased by gender in the evaluation of performance (Swim & Sanna, 1996; Top, 1991). More recently, three different sets of studies involved having faculty from science- related fields evaluate the materials of candidates for research or faculty positions or research grants in their fields, and these studies found completely contradictory results: One found a bias in favor of men, one found a bias in favor of women, and one found no gender differences. The point here is that in studies involving the evaluation of materials that are identical except for the gender of the person who supposedly produced the materials, the findings have been inconsistent.

What is quite clear, however, is that gender discrimination continues to exist in numerous other ways and instances. As with forms of modern and implicit racism, subtle but impactful examples of sexism abound. For example, Juan Madera and others looked at real letters of recommendation that professors wrote for candidates for academic jobs. A quick look at these letters probably would not reveal any obvious differences based on the gender of the candidates. A more thorough analysis, however, indicated that both male and female professors tended to include more pieces of information raising slight doubts (e.g., “she has a somewhat challenging personality,” “she might make a good colleague”) for female than for male candidates. Moreover, these seemingly minor doubts made a significant difference in the evaluations made by the people reading these letters.

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