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Academics go to research seminars for a chance to present their work in front of qualified audiences. However, a new study finds that gender disparities do not spare female academics even during such intellectual exercises.

Women economists face harsher and more patronizing questions from their audiences than men do, and their presentations are disrupted more often, finds the working paper by Pascaline Dupas of Stanford University and her peers. On average, women face 12% more questions than men.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, covers 462 talks presented by 338 academics—115 women and 223 men—across 32 universities in 2019. The study assesses the time, duration, type, and tenor of each interaction between presenters and audience members.

Nearly two-thirds of the additional questions posed to female academics were asked by male faculty members. The authors note that audiences were less likely to consolidate questions for female presenters the way they did for male ones, and this tended to increase the number of interruptions women face.

A qualitative assessment of these interactions revealed that female presenters got more remarks in the nature of seeking clarifications and giving suggestions. However, there was no evidence of women facing more criticism than men in the comments. The overall likelihood of women facing “somewhat unfair" questions was more than men, while they were less likely to face questions categorized as “somewhat fair".

The authors note that facing 8-12% more interruptions may not significantly impact an academician, but demoralizing tones may force them to evaluate whether they have chosen the right career. The study, conducted for economics departments, paves the way for exploring gender bias in seminars of other disciplines.

Also read: Gender and the Dynamics of Economics Seminars

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