Sparks fly over Royal Society gender study: Equality vs Business case

July 16, 2013 at 1:55 am 3 comments

I am on the Royal Society’s side here.  Absolutely, there is a solid moral argument that women should have every opportunity to be in STEM fields and that bias should be identified and eliminated.  But it’s also a good idea to learn more about gender diversity and to explore whether a business case for gender diversity exists — can we prove that science works better if there if there is gender diversity?  Why not ask these questions?

MPs have launched a formal parliamentary inquiry into whether British science is institutionally sexist. Concern at the high numbers of women scientists abandoning their careers has prompted the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to look into why Britain is failing to stop females dropping out of science.

The Royal Society, which advises the Government on science, has launched a separate investigation into whether greater gender diversity would lead to better science. Such is the sensitivity around the issue that the study’s announcement provoked a public spat when a critic claimed the research would result in the need to make a business case for equality when solid moral arguments already existed.

via Sparks fly over Royal Society gender study – Science – News – The Independent.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. memetikchik  |  July 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    The reasoning here becomes much more obvious if the outcome actually affects you.

    Realize that the possible hypotheses here, assuming that this is a legitimate line of inquiry, are “Does business work better with: all men, gender diversity, all women”.

    Which two do you think are likely to be tested? Which one do you think would be considered the control state? Are they likely to actually consider all of the confounding variables as well as they could? Regardless of how well the study is performed, how large it is, or the fact that it’s only a single study, how many women do you think won’t get hired, will be fired, or will be kept from promotion if the result is that gender diversity fares worse?

    Would it be ethical to ask if we should allow gay and straight people to work together? If we as a culture should let disabled people work? How about people from multiple ethnicities and cultures?

    Do you think any study will ever be done that attempts to show that an all-women workplace improves business?

    I respect your response and I see that it comes from a good place, which first most likely wants gender diversity to be shown to have a neutral or improving effect, and second wants to see objective answers to support these things. But the moral case is stronger here: it doesn’t matter what effect gender diversity has on business. Deciding that any portion of the human population is unhireable on a basis that has nothing to do with their performance is unethical, and no study is necessary to prove that.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  July 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      I agree that my perspective is filtered as a white male. There does seem to be an assumption I’d like to question, in your paragraph starting with “Which two do you think are likely to be tested?” Are you assuming that they’re going to do some kind of controlled study? The most common research methodology for a question like this would be to gather a lot of data, then do hypothesis testing on the database, controlling for a wide variety of variables. That’s a common methodology in economics and most of the social sciences (and one we teach in Computational Freakonomics). There are certainly natural situations biased in both directions today, so it’s possible to gather data from many situations to do the experiments without constructing an unethical (and likely, illegal) single-gendered workplace.

      • 3. memetikchik  |  July 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

        Ah, I wasn’t aware of that. Though in terms of ethics, I think I take issue more with asking the question and the effects the answer might have than what would happen in the actual performing of such a study.


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