I spoke about this topic with Katy Milkman of the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania, who herself has just returned to work after a maternity leave.
Katy and her colleagues ran a very interesting experiment. They sent emails from fictional prospective doctoral students to over 6,500 professors at top U.S. universities. The students, whose names were randomly assigned to signal gender and race, asked to discuss research opportunities prior to applying to a doctoral program.
The results were jaw-dropping. Faculty of all races and genders were significantly more responsive to White males than to all other categories of students combined, especially in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions. As such, women and minorities who are considering graduate school may experience disproportionately less support in the early stages of the process, affecting their decision to apply. I spoke with Katy about this study and her own experiences.
Your study found that having more women and minorities on campus was not related to the discriminating patterns in which faculty responded to prospective students.
We were very surprised by this result. However, it is in line with past work showing that the targets of stereotypes still hold those stereotypes, so perhaps we should not have been surprised.
The White House has advocated for collecting pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees, in order to shed light on discriminatory practices. Do you think it will help?
I think that sunshine is the best disinfectant so am a fan of the White House call. I don’t really see any relationship between this proposed policy and our findings.
Women take a pay penalty for taking time off to care for kids. Did this affect you personally?
I don’t know if this affected me personally because I’ve only just come back from maternity leave and haven’t found out what my pay will be for the coming year. We shall see…
Does parenting inform your work and does your work impact how you parent your child?
It has certainly made me more aware of the need to expect students and/or colleagues with kids to be less available at night and on the weekends than I used to think they should be!
I’ve only been a parent for 4.5 months and I’m not sure parenting has informed by work yet nor has my work really informed my parenting (though I’ll say that I’m very skeptical about the advice in books, etc. that isn’t based on sound evidence from randomized, controlled trials!).