Gender bias in academic conference ratings revealed

Women’s submissions to a leading seminar were viewed more warmly once a gender-blind process was introduced

Women are more likely to be accepted to speak at academic conferences if applications are anonymised to remove any mention of their gender, a study suggests.

In the latest piece of evidence to support the “Matilda effect” – where women in male-dominated fields are rated more harshly by peer reviewers – a review of a leading international conference found that papers with a female first author were viewed more positively once clues to the applicant’s gender were removed.

Conversely, those papers with a male first author scored far worse once a “double-blind” review process was introduced to conceal the identities of the authors and their referees.

The analysis followed the decision by the biennial Evolution of Languages (EvoLang) conference to move to a double-blind system for this year’s event, which was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in March.

Papers submitted with a female first author were ranked higher by about 4 per cent in 2016 compared with those entered for the previous two conferences, according to a study, titled “Double-blind reviewing at EvoLang11 reveals gender bias”, published in the Journal of Language Evolution last month.

Meanwhile, rankings for papers with male first authors declined by about 19 per cent on average, with the altered scores likely to increase female participation in the conference, the paper adds.

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