I would like to say that this study is something new, but sadly enough: it isn’t. We’ve seen this over and over again in other studies: students are more likely to rate male university teachers higher than their female counterparts. Now it has been shown to be the case in Australia.
From the press release:
The study, published today in PLOS ONE, examined almost 525,000 individual student experience surveys from UNSW Sydney students from 2010-2016 across five faculties. It is the first study to examine the interaction between gender and cultural bias.
“These results have enormous flow-on effects for society, beyond education, as over 40% of the Australian population now go to university, and graduates may carry these biases with them into the workforce,” said Associate Professor Yanan Fan, lead author on the study and statistician from UNSW Science.
The study showed that in Business and Science, a male teacher from an English-speaking background was more than twice as likely to get a higher score on a student evaluation than a female teacher from a non-English speaking background. In Engineering, there wasn’t a significant swing against female teachers, except male English-speaking teachers were 1.4 times more likely to get a higher score than teachers in all other categories. For Medicine, local students were more likely to give lower scores to female teachers from non-English speaking backgrounds.
“In the Business and Science faculties in particular, male English-speaking teachers have the highest probability of getting the highest possible grade at six, out of six possible scores,” Associate Professor Fan said.
In Arts and Social Sciences, there was no statistically significant bias against female teachers. The results suggest that where there is a larger proportion of female teachers, such as in Arts and Social Sciences, there is less bias. Bias was observed, however, against male non-English speaking background teachers when evaluated by local students.
“The results show universities must be models of equity and diversity in order to breakdown inequalities that persist in even the most progressive of workplaces,” said Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic.
“We regard student experience surveys as essential, but we have to know how to interpret the results in order understand unconscious bias and how we can bring about change. UNSW is driving a strategy that embraces diversity and we believe these biases will diminish over time. Diversity is a great strength of UNSW and we must keep celebrating it,” said Professor Crossley.
Professor Crossley pointed to unconscious bias training, one of the key initiatives of UNSW’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Board, as a program that tackles often hidden beliefs and attitudes about gender and culture.
In 2017, UNSW appointed Professor Eileen Baldry as UNSW’s first Deputy Vice-Chancellor Inclusion and Diversity. One of the key objectives of the role, and of UNSW’s 2025 Strategy, is achieving gender equity targets at all staff grades.
Associate Professor Fan said there was growing evidence to suggest that all aspects of employment, from hiring to performance evaluation to promotion, are affected by gender and cultural background.
“Reducing bias will have great benefits for society as university students represent a large proportion of future leaders in government and industry,” said Associate Professor Fan.
Dean of Science at UNSW and co-author of the study, Professor Emma Johnston, says encouraging more women at the professorial level, in leadership positions and in membership of key committees will help shrink these biases.
“We need to continue to support women at all levels of academia in STEM across Australia, in order to smash stereotypes that create the partiality that exists within our community.”
Abstract of the study:
Gendered and racial inequalities persist in even the most progressive of workplaces. There is increasing evidence to suggest that all aspects of employment, from hiring to performance evaluation to promotion, are affected by gender and cultural background. In higher education, bias in performance evaluation has been posited as one of the reasons why few women make it to the upper echelons of the academic hierarchy. With unprecedented access to institution-wide student survey data from a large public university in Australia, we investigated the role of conscious or unconscious bias in terms of gender and cultural background. We found potential bias against women and teachers with non-English speaking backgrounds. Our findings suggest that bias may decrease with better representation of minority groups in the university workforce. Our findings have implications for society beyond the academy, as over 40% of the Australian population now go to university, and graduates may carry these biases with them into the workforce.