Your female professors are just as genius as your male professors
The battle of the sexes extends to the lecture hall...Source: Shutterstock

Female academics can’t seem to catch a break. Outnumbered two-to-one, harassed and paid less than their male counterparts, the gender gap is alive and kicking well into 2019.

Recent reports also show black female academics facing “passive bullying and racial microaggressions”, on top of stagnating numbers of female Vice-Chancellors across UK universities, while shining a light on that fact that science prizes won by women average 64 cents for every dollar won by a man.

Now new research has more salt to add to the wound: students think they aren’t as good as their male counterparts.

In teaching evaluations, students are less likely to give female lecturers a “perfect 10” but when a different scale is used, they rank them equally well, according to a study by Northwestern University’s Lauren Rivera and University of Toronto’s András Tilcsik.

Giving lecturers a “perfect 10” activated “gender stereotypes of brilliance”. Students were hesitant to assign such top scores to women, reports Mother Jones.

On the other hand, the six-point system allowed students to recognise a wider range of performances that merit top marks. There are “lesser cultural connotations of flawless performance”. Students rated their female professors as really good, but not necessarily brilliant, using this scale. Thus, they were more willing to give their female instructors top marks.

Dr Rivera told Times Higher Education this could probably be explained by students’ tendency to deem their female professors as being “merely good rather than brilliant”.

The gap is most stark in male-dominated subjects. Under the 10-point scale, 31.4 percent of male ratings were a perfect 10 – making it the most common result – whereas only 19.5 percent of women’s scores were ranked as such.

Contrastingly, the six-point scale revealed no major difference between the top ratings awarded; 41.2 percent of men scored six and 41.7 percent of women scored the same.

“Consequently, our results show that the structure of rating systems can shape the evaluation of women’s and men’s relative performance and alter the magnitude of gender inequalities in organizations,” they said.

It’s unclear where negative stereotypes about female abilities in maths and science – which largely claim they aren’t as good at and suitable for these two subjects – originate from. It’s equally unclear why these stereotypes persist despite girls outperforming boys in schools and outnumbering them across college campuses. Research has shown that they begin as early as elementary school and continue to adulthood.

Though they do well in early grades, they lose confidence as they progress, according to Joshua Aronson, Associate Professor of Developmental, Social and Educational Psychology at New York University.

“One reason for this loss of confidence is the stereotyping that kids are exposed to — in school and the media and even in the home — that portrays boys as more innately gifted [in maths]. Without denying the fact that boys may have some biological advantage, I think that psychology plays a big role here,” he said.

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