Preferential Hiring of Women

April 2002

I would like to thank the many chairs and chairs' assistants who responded to my recent survey on the hiring rates of men and women faculty at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. The survey asked how many applicants of each sex had applied to the last 3 positions filled, as well as the sex of the successful applicants. I received responses from over half of the departments/schools polled, 17 from SFU and 19 from UBC. The respondents represented all of the disciplines recognized by Statistics Canada, but we did not poll Nursing.

From the respondent departments, the total number of men applying to both institutions was 3,219, the number of women, 1,306. Thus 71.1% of applicants was male, while 28.9% was female. This ratio was identical for the two institutions, and is similar to that reported for a 10-year period at the University of Western Ontario (Seligman, SAFS Newsletter, April, 2001). Overall, this suggests that currently, at least 70% of faculty job applicants to Canadian academic institutions are male. The situation varies somewhat across disciplines. For example, the proportion of male applicants is significantly higher in the Natural Sciences than in the Humanities. However, across both BC institutions, only one of the disciplines responding reported substantially more female applicants. In the vast majority of departments, more men than women applied. Of the 105 people from the survey actually hired, 43 (41%) were women, and 62 (59%) were men. This discrepancy between the ratio of applicants to the ratio of hirees is statistically significant, using a Chi-square analysis in which the expected hiring rate is based on the applicant pool. Again, this confirms findings from the UWO study, where women were hired in proportions significantly higher than would be predicted from the number of women applicants. An earlier Canada-wide report, estimating the applicant pool from the number of PhD graduates, similarly found an over-representation of women among new faculty, in the preceeding two decades (Irvine, Dialogue, 1996).

Assuming equivalent quality ranges in men and women applicants, that is, the same proportion of "excellent" to "average" candidates, it must follow that, when preferences are severe, some women will be hired over better-qualified men. For example, in one case all 3 hirees were female though the ratio of men to women applicants was 2:1. It is clear that women are not being discriminated against in hiring in any Canadian university to date on which we have information. This holds true for Science disciplines: in both biological and physical sciences, women were over-hired, though the sample size being smaller than in the case of total applicants, the effect is not statistically significant. However, one can state with certainty that there is no evidence of a bias against hiring women in the sciences, subjective impressions notwithstanding.

Of course, some questions remain. The findings do not rule out idiosyncratic cases of negative bias against women at either a departmental or individual level. However, men may suffer identical idiosyncratic bias, and the data show that they suffer generalized negative bias as well. Some might contend that women are hired preferentially because they are better qualified. This seems unlikely given the generally lower productivity of women academics (e.g., Schneider, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998, Sept 11), but only access to vitae can answer that question. It also seems unlikely that respondent bias was a significant factor, since our data are consistent with previous studies cited, in which no respondent bias could operate.