It’s time to change the face of psychology
7 March 2017 12 Comments
We focus on cognitive ability and personality traits and explore how and why these dimensions are interrelated, their causes and consequences for lifespan cognitive development, and their behavioral manifestations.
Although females outnumber male psychology students at undergraduate levels, senior positions in psychological science are mostly held by men. This disparity has been previously attributed to two principal reasons:
- Women’s tendency to prioritise raising a family over pursuing a scientific career, and
- Systematic faculty gender biases against hiring and promoting women in academia.
We want to raise awareness of a third crucial issue that hinders women’s progression into the most respected posts in psychological research:
- The typical image of the psychological scientist.
As (female) Individual Differences researchers, we are particularly concerned about the glaring gender inequality in our specific field of psychological study. Individual Differences is at the core of modern psychology. It includes the study of personality, motivation, intelligence, interests, values, self-concept, and self-esteem. As such, its inherent focus is on the diversity of human individuality. Many famous female scientists, such as Nancy Bayley, Mary Ainsworth and Magda Arnold, have shaped Individual Differences research during the past century. It strikes us that Individual Differences should be the exemplar model of gender equality for psychological science.
However, we found evidence that, although many women work in Individual Differences research, they are mostly invisible.
We investigated gender ratios in Individual Differences in three ways:
- Authors of 157 journal articles published in the field’s flagship journal Personality and Individual Differences (PAID).
- Authors of the 30 chapters in the latest edited Handbook of Individual Differences.
- Conference keynote speakers across the 5 most recent meetings of 5 scientific societies (25 in all) most relevant to the study of Individual Differences:
Our results show that approximately 53% of all journal articles published over the past year in Personality and Individual Differences had at least one male author – thus, just under half of all Personality and Individual Differences authors were female (Figure 1).
By comparison, 76% of handbook chapters were authored by male psychologists and a staggering 78% of keynotes were given by men. In short, where Individual Differences is most visible – in keynotes and edited handbooks – men were overrepresented, although this is not the case at the ‘typical’, less visible level of scientific dissemination like journal article publications.
Our findings corroborate recent reports that women’s under-representation in non-mathematic-based STEM areas, like psychology and the social sciences, is primarily due to systematic gender biases at the senior level.
In the mathematic-based STEM areas, such as physical science and engineering, the gender disparity in higher academia is mainly caused by pre-college selection factors that are reflected by radically lower proportions of female undergraduate students. But this is not the case in psychology. Given that about half of all articles in Personality and Individual Differences are authored by women, there are clearly enough female experts in Individual Differences research available that could fill the visible positions of keynote speakers and handbook chapter authors – but they don’t.
We suspect two reasons account for the underrepresentation of women in visible senior positions in Individual Differences research. The first results from the way in which visible senior positions are traditionally filled: A committee of predominantly male senior psychologists will sit together to nominate one of their long-standing colleagues or friends.
We found that 77% of the members of scientific committees that organised the 25 Individual Differences conferences investigated here were male. Furthermore, of the 75 corresponding societies’ presidents, including president-elects and past presidents, 87% were also male (Figure 2). We do not wish to imply that such committees necessarily select on purpose other men over potential female keynote speakers or chapter authors, but we suspect that their own overwhelming maleness muffles any perception of gender disparity.
The second reason applies to keynote speakers specifically and lies in the nature of conferences itself. As women continue to perform the vast majority of the household labour, including childcare, it is incommensurably more difficult for them to travel to and stay over at scientific meetings, compared to male scientists. Thus in those rare cases, when a woman is indeed invited to keynote, she often has to decline the offer to avoid a clash with her personal life.
Encouraging young female scientists to pursue careers in psychology requires:
- Strengthening their confidence to resist against stereotypes and discrimination, and
- Providing opportunities to combine motherhood and leading position in science.
To this end, we propose ameliorating the under-representation of women in visible senior positions in psychological science by two means.
1. Quotas for scientific committees
We suggest a quota for scientific committees that nominate authors and keynote speakers outlets to include at least 25% female members and that at least 25% of the invited scientific contributors must be women. Some may argue that quotas promote scientists for criteria other than their merit and thus, ‘normalize’ discrimination. Considering the overwhelming dominance of men in the selection committees and as scientific contributors, a quota seems to us as indispensible for starting to change the face of psychology. A quota, we hope, will allow creating role models for early-career female scientists and pave the way for a balanced gender distribution at all academic career levels.
2. Conference funds for family care costs
We propose introducing conference funds that are specifically reserved for family care costs. Alternatively, conference nurseries could be set up so that female scientists can bring their children to scientific meetings (and not have to leave their grouching toddlers on a blanket on the side of the lecture room while giving their own talk, under the condemnatory looks of a predominantly male audience. Yes, this happened). Such measures will create more flexibility for female scientists to travel to and speak at conferences and scientific meetings.
In closing, we want to point out that increasing women’s visibility in psychology will not only encourage talented young women to pursue a career in this discipline but it will also attract talented young men who long to work in a field that acknowledges and respects human individuality. And it is this kind of talent that produces the most successful psychological science.
Declaration of conflicts of interest: All authors are female Individual Differences researchers. None has children; none has keynoted; one has co-authored a handbook chapter (she also co-edited the volume). All like attending psychological conferences.