💁 Women rule

Only men show gender bias when evaluating peers in the biology classroom

Men consistently underestimate the academic performance of women

By Jennifer Harrison February 19, 2016

Women face sexism and harassment in science fields from men and even from other women. A study published in PLOS ONE has investigated how undergraduate biology students evaluate their peers’ academic performance. The researchers from the University of Washington asked students to nominate top students and found that men consistently overestimated the grades of other men but underestimates the grades of women.

The study looked at thousands of students split across 3 large biology classrooms. It’s no surprise that men will receive more nominations than women because there are more men in the classroom. It’s also known that men are more outspoken that women in the classroom. The researchers took all this into account and controlled for these factors, finding that men still received more nominations and had their grades overestimated by fellow men.

The GPA (grade point average) of men was on average 0.765 points higher than their real performance. For women the increase was only 0.004 points. According to the authors, the gender bias of men was 19 times greater than that of women.

It doesn’t matter how many more women go into the sciences; the cultural issues will still hold them back. When the top students are always presumed to be male, the stereotype persists and further confirms the biases of students including those who are newly entering the STEM fields.

So there’s a sexism problem in the sciences. We already knew that. The encouraging thing this study does is that the women weren’t exhibiting their own gender bias, which is usually common in the sciences. Of all the classrooms, the one with the least gender bias was the only one with a women teaching. This suggests that only good things can come from women working in higher positions in STEM fields, contradicting stereotypes.

Biology isn’t thought to have the same levels of sexism and harassment as fields like maths, physics, and computer sciences. I’d be interested to see the same study repeated in those classrooms.


Main image © iStock/skynesher