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Gender bias against women is a well-known phenomenon in science as in other walks of life. But for the first time, a team of scientists from Yale University performed a real-world experiment last month that measured it, removed it from the realm of conjecture and imparting it the concreteness of numbers.

In an abstract of the study—published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)—the authors say that 127 science faculties from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for the position of a laboratory manager. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and worth hiring than the (identical) female applicant.

Thus not only were identical resumes weighed differently, but those with male names were offered a higher starting salary and better career mentoring than the female applicant. Surprisingly, women assessors were themselves biased against women applicants and viewed them as less competent than their male counterparts.

The underlying story is that bias against women is apparent. On similar lines, a recent study in the journal Current Science showed that women students at the doctoral level were as prolific as their male colleagues, when the authors analysed a five-year sample of research publications. The biases are clear and jarring. More importantly, they have no basis in scientific attainment or achievement.

Developed scientific countries such as the US and the UK have been debating gender bias in science for decades, but largely in keeping with their ethos of providing equal opportunities for all citizens.

In India, however, the low enrolment of women in higher education appears to be much more daunting with the apparent bias problem, underlined by the PNAS study. In India, there is a clear case to ensure that women join the scientific workforce by providing the appropriate incentives. That’s because more than ensuring gender parity, India faces a serious human resource crunch in its scientist workforce.

The loss of every woman, due to societal pressure or lack of opportunity, hurts us much more than other countries.

What should be done to minimize gender bias in science? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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