People Associate the Trait of Brilliance More with Men than Women
Thu, October 21, 2021

People Associate the Trait of Brilliance More with Men than Women



Gender inequality refers to the unequal perceptions or treatment of individuals based on their gender. Despite efforts to stop gender inequality, a new study has found that people are still more likely to associate the trait of brilliance with men than women.


Brilliance viewed as a male trait

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, comprised more than 3,000 people from 78 countries. Subjects included children in the US between nine and 10 years old. A total of five experiments were also conducted. The subjects were surveyed on the gender they most associated with “high-level intellectual ability” or “brilliance.”

Although few study participants directly linked men with brilliance, about 70% to 75% of them had an implicit bias that suggests they more likely associate the term with men compared to women. New York University Psychology Department’s associate professor Andrei Cimpian, who is one of the co-authors, said via Business Insider that if people link the trait that is considered an essential for success with men more than women, then they are less likely to give the female population the opportunities to succeed in these fields.

Cimpian’s lab has dedicated itself in recent years to finding out why women are underrepresented in some fields, such as engineering, math, science, and technology, where the trait of brilliance is valued. The authors believe that such a topic is not easy to research. Although gender stereotypes – a range of attitudes and behaviors generally considered as appropriate or desirable for a person based on perceived and biological sex - were previously widely accepted, most people are now cautious in directly articulating them.



Implicit Associate Test

Most of the 3,618 participants disagree that they associate brilliance with men than women but the Implicit Associate Test shows a different answer. It is a test that measures how instinctively participants sort other people into categories. This will show how quickly the traits are grouped and who automatically grouped those traits. Cimpian said that people may not be aware that they hold such associations and they may be evaluating the performance of male employees more positively or giving them more opportunities without even realizing what they are doing.



Gender-brilliance stereotype

The associate professor also told that understanding the magnitude and prevalence of this gender-brilliance stereotype will help inform people of their future efforts to increase gender equity in career. In almost all countries today, women tend to earn less than men but these inequalities have been narrowing so far. Scientific online publication Our World in Data shares that the unadjusted gender pay gap in the US declined from 1980 to 2010. This is evident as the unadjusted female to male wage ratio is closer to 100% in 2019 than in 1980. The gender pay gap is calculated by comparing all male and female workers, regardless of differences in worker characteristics. The result is the unadjusted or raw pay gap. On the other hand, if the gap is calculated after accounting for the underlying differences in experience, education, and other factors that matter for the pay gap, the result would be the adjusted pay gap.

According to Our World in Data, gender pay differences are better explained by occupation than by education.

A previous study by Cimpian and their team highlights that female workers are underrepresented in careers where success is believed to depend on high levels of intellectual ability, such as being a genius or being brilliant. In their recent series of five studies, the team included US women and men, girls and boys, and women and men from 78 other countries.




Several reasons explained why we still view genius or brilliance as a male trait. One theory is that some work environments are less welcoming to women. Another reason is that women are put off by jobs that call for brilliant people due to the unconscious bias in society. Third, people do not admit that they have stereotypical views. This is why Cimpian and colleagues relied on the Implicit Association Test to speed sort the task of looking at the automatic assumptions that people make before their logic kicks in.

In a 2016 study titled The Frequency of “Brilliant” and “Genius” in Teaching Evaluations Predicts the Representation of Women and African Americans across Fields, it was also detailed that students more often use the words brilliant and genius to describe male professors compared to female professors. In 2018, another study stated that individuals tend to consider more men than women in jobs that need high intellectual ability and such bias starts even at a young age.

In September 2019, authors Reut Shachnai from Cornell University's Department of Human Development and colleagues likewise found that five- and six-year-old kids tend to choose photos of men over women when they were asked to choose the picture of someone “really, really smart.”

Cimpian opined that their study is another piece of a puzzle behind why there are people who think that prestigious careers need super smart people. This is probably the reason why there are fewer female than male STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) graduates. World Bank Gender Statistics share that among every ten STEM graduates in Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Burundi, Chile, and South Korea, only less than two are girls. Such a disparity in professional choices shows a missed opportunity. The demand for STEM graduates also far exceeds the supply. Encouraging more girls into STEM will help fill the supply gap. Countries with the highest share of female graduates from STEM programs in tertiary are Sint Maarten (75%), Tunisia (58%), Algeria (55%), Benin (55%), Oman (53%), Brunei Darussalam (52%), Syrian Arab Republic (50%), Albania (49%), Panama (49%), and Sudan (47%).



Some signs to look out for that there are gender gaps in your workplace is that the leadership is mostly male. If most division leaders and executives are male while female workers make up the majority of the junior-level staff, there may be a gender gap in your office. Another sign to look out for is when women are categorized into “soft-skill” roles. Skills like time management and interpersonal communication are significant for any organization but women are usually disproportionately put into soft-skill jobs in program administration, human resources, and communications.

Every work environment has a different dynamic. A setting that works for one may not be successful in another. However, with the right combination of collaboration, dedication, and awareness, it is possible to spot and fight gender inequalities.