Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gender and Cultural Bias Against University STEM Teachers

Students are more likely to rate male university teachers higher than their female counterparts in some areas of STEM and Business, according to Australia’s largest review of student experience surveys.

The study, published in PLOS ONE (https://goo.gl/DcV2w7), examined almost 525,000 individual student experience surveys from UNSW Sydney students across five faculties during 2010–16.

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 but male English-speaking teachers were 1.4 times more likely to get a higher score than all other teachers. 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,” said lead author A/Prof Yanan Fan of UNSW Science.

In Arts and Social Sciences there was no statistically significant bias against female teachers. This suggests that there is less bias where there is a larger proportion of female teachers. Bias was observed, however, against male non-English-speaking background teachers when evaluated by local students.

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,” Fan said.

UNSW Dean of Science and co-author of the study, Prof Emma Johnston, said: “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.”