Kate Jeffery k.jeffery at
Tue Nov 14 15:23:54 EST 2000

>Not too long ago I sat at a table in a faculty lunch room while another 
>faculty member explained that in a search with 100 applicants (of which 
>20 are women) if you hire a woman, it is unlikely that you hired the 
>best candidate. His argument was that if only 20% of the sample is 
>female the probability is much smaller that the best candidate will be 
>female than that the best candidate will be male. He was trying to 
>explain why so many searches in math and science hire men. (Nearly 100% 
>of the searches I have seen in the last 5 years.) 

That's only true if the reason for women leaving science and not making it
to the  interview is not to do with talent: in other words, if the 20% and
80% representations, respectively, were drawn at random from a starting
pool of young scientists. In that worst case scenario, then there is still
a 20% likelihood of the best candidate being female and the hiring
committees should be hiring genderwise in proportion to the percentage of
applicants. In fact, I personally think that universities should be
*required* to show that they hire this way, over, say, a 5 year or 10 year
period. Any university not generally hiring genderwise proportionally to
the percentage of applicants should, I believe, be penalised by a cut in
funding (the only way to make 'em sit up and take notice!). 

That's the worst case. But as we all know, the filtering process is such
that the pool of applicants for a job is probably drawn from the best
available, in which case the 20% of women applicants probably represent the
best 20% of all women scientists in that field. In this case they should be
equal in ability to the best 20% of male applicants and therefore be *more*
than 20% likely to be hired. In fact according to this argument they should
have a 50:50 chance, because it should be a coin toss between the best
woman and the best man. Of course, if you hired this way then there would
be terrible accusations of gender bias because most organisations are too
stupid to understand this reasoning. Only one of the many obstacles women
face! (And if you think we have it bad, don't get me started of issues of
race. There are 10% blacks in this country and about 1% black
undergraduates and *no* black neuroscientists that I know of, in London).

There is another problem though. At the risk of being terribly disloyal to
my gender, there is the problem that women of apparently equal ability to
men publish less. Since most funding is contingent on publication rate, it
is very likely that at an interview, this will weed out female applicants.
I have no idea how to get around this problem. Part of it is due to young
women scientists having babies and having less time for research. This
inevitably impacts on their pub. rate (as I know from personal experience).
But that's not the whole story. However, given that pub. rate might affect
how much money a university department gets (as it does here in the UK),
why should a dept. even try to hire women at all? Even if they *are* very

Kate Jeffery

Dept. of Psychology
University College London
26 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AP
Tel: (44) 020 7679 5308
Fax: (44) 020 7436 4276
Mobile: 077 2009 1720


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