The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
MYTH 1: Sexism is perpetrated by a small number of men, typically close to retirement age, who are “against women.” Most academics, especially mathematicians, are open-minded people who are against discrimination.
FACT: Please read this study on gender bias in science hiring:
In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent.
See also summaries and discussion here and here, and my own posts here and here. This is not an isolated study, either. See, for example, this study on gender and blind auditions in music. I’ve seen the same exact thing in my own experience and heard about it from colleagues. Statistical evidence from my own university confirms it.
The bottom line is, we are all biased. We all tend to think of women’s work as somewhat smaller, derivative, inferior. We do so unconsciously and involuntarily. We are not aware of it, nor do we notice it in others. That’s what all these studies are saying. It’s as if everyone is wearing glasses with the same tint. You’re wearing them even if you’re “open-minded” or “against discrimination”, even if you start your sentences with “I’m not against women, but…”
It is not, and never has been, only about a few individuals who forgot to catch up with the times. It’s not about trolls who say horrible things about women on unmoderated blogs. It’s about you, and me, and everyone we know. It’s about the nice, polite, progressive people who just wish that their female colleague down the hall didn’t try to be more ambitious than is good for her. (She’s clearly good, but does she really think she’s equal to X and Y? And she doesn’t have the same leadership quality, either.) It’s about that paper by two female authors that’s just not quite as groundbreaking as this other paper written by two men. In other words, you need to start by examining your own bias.