APS News

Montana State University Achieves Gender Parity in STEM Hiring

By Sophia Chen

APS April Meeting 2016 — Since 2012, Montana State University has hired 72 new tenure-track faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — and 36 of those hires were women. “Fifty percent. That’s equality,” said Jessi Smith, an MSU psychology professor, during a press conference at the 2016 APS April Meeting. Smith trained hiring committees to confront their own biases in job candidate selection.

She credits the achievement to an hour-long intervention that she and her colleagues developed that trained committees to recognize implicit biases to avoid subconsciously stereotyping candidates. They also arranged for candidates to discuss the university’s work-life climate, confidentially, with a faculty member not on the hiring committee. They based their intervention on rigorous testing and systematically measuring the outcomes.

After the intervention, Smith said, a hiring committee member was 6.3 times more likely to make an offer to a woman candidate, and those women candidates were 5.8 times more likely to accept the offer.

The training is just a small step in changing the culture in STEM, Smith said. Scientists need to step away from the idea that science comes from innate talent, both because many underrepresented minorities are stereotyped as not having it, and because science requires hard work, she said. “This is not asking diverse people to assimilate to existing science culture, because that’s not actually diversity,” she said. “That’s just more people who think the same way.”

To meet diversity goals, departments need to be more deliberate in involving social science experts and research, explained Smith. “The solution is not throwing the kitchen sink at diversity, taking a survey, and hoping something will stick,” she said.

Diversity matters because it spurs innovation, Smith said. To be more inclusive, physics departments need to recognize that scientists’ personal lives affect their professional decisions, said Elizabeth H. Simmons, a physicist and dean at Michigan State University who also participated in the press conference. “Everyone we work with has other dimensions in their lives,” she said.

Smith and her colleagues have published an article on their work in the April issue of Science magazine.

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