The impact of implicit gender bias

What effects do unconscious stereotypes and prejudices have on the advancement of women in science? This overview is based on a literature study on the assessment of the performance of male and female scientists.

Students generally give female teachers a lower rating

It appears that students give female teachers a lower rating than their male colleagues. The International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University Rotterdam has assembled 650 appraisals within its own institution, covering a total of 272 subjects over a five-year period. These show that, on average, women are rated lower than men. The differences continue to exist after adjusting for various effects, such as the subject content, the composition of the student population, age, quality (impact of publications) and position (course leader or other teacher) 1. As a result of the lower rating, women have 11 percent less chance of attaining the position of professor compared to men. Similar results have also been found in the United States 2, 3.

Gender does play a role in the assessment of publications

If researchers in the Netherlands do not manage to publish internationally, this hinders their scientific career and leads to a waste of research time 4. A point of concern is that when evaluating scientific articles, factors other than their quality are of influence, such as the characteristics of the authors (for example: gender and country of origin).

‘Only men possess the right personality to attain a top position in science.’

-reviewer on a rejected manuscript from two female authors in 2015.

Improving assessment procedures does help

Assessment prejudices are usually not very explicit. The fact that gender nevertheless plays a role in the assessment of scientific articles becomes apparent after the procedure has been improved. For instance, implementing a double-blind assessment process for scientific articles has a positive effect on the number of accepted articles by female authors.

Practical example

The scientific journal Behavior Ecology adapted its assessment process in 2001, by hiding the identity of the authors of the submitted manuscripts . Over the first four years following this adjustment the number of accepted articles by female authors increased significantly (by eight percent). A similar increase could not be observed in the case of comparable journals where the reviewers did receive information about the authors 5.

Women are less likely to receive subsidies for research

Female scientists do not manage to obtain funding for their research as frequently as men. This has a negative effect on their career. According to research by the CPB, those female scientists who do obtain an individual research subsidy – such as the Innovation stimulus ‘Vernieuwingsimpuls’ or the VI subsidy – are more likely to be working in University education, to become a professor, and to receive research grants in the future, six years after receiving the initial funding 6.

Veni grants

From research into the awarding of Veni grants under the Innovation stimulus (an individual form of finance for young researchers) in the period 2010 – 2012, it emerges that:

  • Female applicants are less likely to receive a grant than male applicants (14.9 versus 17.7 percent). In particular this applies to the first round of applications (10.8 versus 16.1 percent). In the resubmission process (in which rejected applications can be submitted one more time) the chances of an award are equal (23.6 percent).
  • Women are relatively well represented in the first round of applications, with 42.1 percent. This proportion appears to be equal to the amount of female researchers in the population. Men and women are equally represented in the resubmission round 7.


Assessment and statements of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

From an analysis of the committee decisions, the composition of the committee and the language used in relevant statements by the NWO, the following emerges:

  • Women receive a less favourable assessment than men across the board. On average, the assessment committee gives women less favourable pre-recommendations and scores for (in particular) their quality as a researcher. Furthermore, external referees give women lower top scores than men.
  • Women are well represented in the assessment committees. So the differences in assessment and likelihood of women receiving a grant cannot be explained by the composition of the assessment committees.
  • Differences in assessment and likelihood of receiving a grant are most frequent in fields of science with a relatively high application volume, with equal numbers of male and female applicants, with a relatively low likelihood of receiving a grant and with a preselection round as an extra step in the assessment.
  • ‘Gendered’ language is present in the statements of both applicants and assessors, and above all in the description of an ideal candidate.

Unequal opportunities in the appointment of professors

A total of 3,322 professors were appointed or reappointed during the period 1999-2005. Just 14 percent of them were women 8. The causes of this underrepresentation of women include:

  • Closed procedure
    In the Netherlands most new professors are recruited in a closed procedure. University scouts, who play a decisive role in this procedure, are mostly men. Their network mainly consists of men and are generally less accessible to women. Therefor, women are more likely to be overlooked in the recruitment procedure. As a result, it is less self-evident that female scientists will be proposed for the position of professor.
  • Lack of transparency
    The procedures for the appointment of professors lack transparency. The information (due to the privacy of those involved) is not public and cannot be scrutinised. There are protocols for appointment procedures, but they are not always followed in practice. Moreover, most protocols do not include any measures addressing the issue of gender bias in the selection phase.
  • Assessment method
    In assessing the scientific quality of a candidate, the emphasis lies mostly on research experience and qualities, such as the number of publications, citations and obtained research funding. This assessment method can be disadvantageous for women, because their careers are more likely to be interrupted (for example due to pregnancy or providing care).
    Women working in academia also appear to be more involved in educational tasks and tasks relating to the transfer of knowledge, whilst men more often perform research tasks.
    Another factor that is of influence, is that women have to perform better in order to be assessed at the same level as male scientists. In the case of male and female scientists with an equal track record the female scientists score lower among assessors.
  • Personality and rapport
    In addition to professional capital, the personality of the candidate also plays an important role in the selection process. This involves aspects such as whether there is rapport between the candidate and the committee, as well as a person’s leadership qualities, dedication and ambition. Women suffer from these stereotypical perceptions
  • When is a candidate excellent?
    Whether a candidate is viewed as being excellent, is based on the combination of the following two aspects: professional capital of a scientist (above all research experience and qualities) and the individual capital (such as rapport between [MS1] the candidate and the committee, but also leadership qualities, dedication and ambition). Men are more likely to be assessed as excellent than women.

Two or more female candidates increase the chance of a woman being appointed

Research performed in the United States shows that if there are two or more female candidates for a CEO position, the probability that a woman will be appointed increases 9.

    2. MacNell, L., Driscoll, A., & Hunt, A. N. (2014, December 5). What’s in a name: Exposing gender bias in student ratings of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 1-13.
    3. Boring, A. Ottoboni, K & Stark, P. B. (7 January 2016). Student evaluations of teaching (mostly) do not measure teaching effectiveness. ScienceOpen Research DOI: 10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-EDU.AETBZC.v1.
    4. Teelken, C. (2012). Compliance or pragmatism: how do academics deal with managerialism in higher education? A comparative study in three countries. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3), 271-290.
  1. Budden, A.E., Tregenza, T., Aarssen, L.W., Koricheva, J., Leimu, R. & Lortie, C.J. (2008). Double-blind review review favours increased representation of female authors. Trends in Ecology and Evolution;23(1):4-6.
  2. S. Gerritsen, E. Plug en K. van der Wiel (2013), Up or Out? How Individual Research Grants Affect
    Academic Careers in The Netherlands, CPB Discussion Paper 249, Den Haag.
  3. Lee, R. van der & Ellemers, N. (2015). Onderzoeksrapport: Honoreringskansen voor mannen en vrouwen in de NWO-competitie. Eindrapport onderzoek NWO.
  4. Brink, M. van den, (2011) Hoogleraarbenoeming in Nederland (m/v). Mythen, feiten en aanbevelingen. Den Haag: RU/Sofokles/LnvH.

Give your opinion

What stereotypical perception or prejudices did you encounter?


    Er zijn nog geen reacties


Uw naam


Naam ontvanger

E-mail adres ontvanger

Uw bericht