Dame Athene Donald who is a master of Churchill College (isn’t that a bit sexist?) and a professor of experimental physics says references are often unintentionally written in a “gendered way” with academics more likely to describe women applying for research posts or fellowships as “hard-working” or “team players“.
She thinks this fails to communicate just how good female applicants are unlike when using words like “excellent“, “driven” or “outstanding” which apparently are often reserved for males.
She said “If letter writers just sit down and write the first adjectives that come into their heads to describe men and women, the words may be poles apart even if the subjects of the letters are indistinguishable in ability”.
“Do you really mean that your star PhD student is hard-working and conscientious or was the message you wanted to convey that she was outstanding, goes the extra mile, and always exceeds your expectations about what is possible, demonstrating great originality en route? There is an enormous difference in the impact of the two descriptions“.
She believes that this clearly can lead to a significant detriment to the woman’s progression, even if without a sexist intent.
Stanford University analysed performance reviews in technology firms and found that women’s evaluations contained almost twice as much language about their communal or nurturing style using words such as “helpful” or “dedicated”.
Men’s reviews on the other hand contained twice as many references to their technical expertise and vision.
Why is this surprising? Do people like Dame Donald think men and women actually behave the same at work? Of course there is an overlap but there is enough research which shows that women respond to stress differently, are often better at soft skills than men, can improve teams, and may be more emotionally intelligent to boot.
Professor Donald suggested that people writing references should use a gender bias calculator website that highlights words in texts that may be received as gendered. She also calls for training for selection panels – something most organisations have been doing for decades (my colleague and I introduced this into an NHS Trust back in the 1990s). I think she means well if a little too PC but maybe a bit out of touch with the real world.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at Buckingham University disagrees with her. He is quoted as saying “How do we know that academics using these words have unconscious bias? being a team player and hard worker are very important. It is perfectly possible that candidates do have these strengths and it is important that a referee is able to say so”
Common sense from one academic at least. And read what happened when a journalist investigated this issue for himself.
Michael Woodley, the co-author, claims that people in Victorian times were quicker, smarter, and more creative than we are.
Using response times as an indicator of general intelligence he found these had slowed down by 14% since 1889.
Then, average response times for men were 183 ms and 187 ms for women. Now they are 250 ms for men and 227 ms for women.
The researchers suggest that this means there has been a decline in creativity and innovation since Victorian times and said; “These findings strongly indicate that the Victorians were substantially cleverer than modern Western populations”.
It wasn’t possible to compare IQ scores because of different levels of education, health and nutrition so visual response times were used instead as these have a large correlation with intelligence.
Woodley thinks that our declining intelligence is a result of a reverse in natural selection as clever people have fewer children than in previous times.
These finding fly in the face of the Flynn effect – a steady increase in measured intelligence over time.
The authors, as far as I know from the news article, make no comment about the difference in response times between men and women, both then and now, which, assuming the differences are statistically significant, would imply that men are more intelligent than women – an argument that has been made before but now generally refuted. Nor about the politically sensitive issue of immigration and whether increases in immigration with larger families from poorer countries has contributed to the decline.
Intelligence is notoriously difficult to define and measure but this study contributes to that debate.
Typically IQ testing has shown differences between men and women – and more controversially between races.
James Flynn, a Professor in New Zealand, has claimed that our IQ scores are increasing every ten years by about 3%, and this has been called the “Flynn effect”.
The “Flynn Effect” means that modern Europeans are 30 points smarter than those who lived a century ago and that IQ is not (wholly) genetic as it can be improved.
Flynn’s latest research showed that whereas women’s scores had previously lagged 5 points behind men’s the differences are now trivial and in New Zealand, Argentina, and Estonia women scored slightly higher than men.
Flynn puts this down to the impact of modern living, women being less disadvantaged than they were in the past, and having jobs that make more cognitive demands.
I’ve posted on women and intelligence before, how women can do worse at problem solving when in teams and yet adding women to teams can raise the group IQ levels.
Intelligence testing is not without its critics and is not a perfect science. See: “How do you know how intelligent you are?”
GQ is based on John Gray’s best-selling books comparing men and women to Mars and Venus.
Recent research suggests that men and women aren’t actually that much different after all (although men tend to have bigger brains than women).
But the test/quiz purports to tell you how much you know about gender differences so that you can be more effective when working with men and women, especially when selling to them.
Of course it’s a pitch for their sales training but it makes you think so it’s worth having a go by clicking here.
Ever wondered what sex your brain is? Try these 6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml
If you are wondering what might influence your brain sex watch these linked YouTube videos on the influence of testosterone on your developing brain and the effect it can have on your work performance.
And if you want to complete an on-line test to see how empathising or systematising your brain is try it at: http://www.eqsq.com
It’s too simplistic to think all women are more empathising than men whilst men are more logical and less feeling – although there is some truth in it. When it comes to making strategic decisions recent research shows that people who are better at it use both the logical and emotional parts of their brains.