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This blog has been written by Anne JENY and Laurence LESCOURRET and it is also available at the PedagoLab@ESSEC
Why are there different interpretive awards for actors and actresses, but no consideration of gender in teacher performance evaluations in the classroom? It has been shown for many years that there is a gender bias in student assessments (see Basow, 1995). Gender bias exists if female and male professors obtain different evaluations which cannot be explained by impartial differences in teaching quality. It has been shown that this gender bias depends on three main characteristics: (i) gender-typed characteristics of the discipline (more discrimination against women teaching engineering than those teaching English, for instance); (ii) the gender of the rater (more discrimination against women stemming from male students); and (iii) the status of the professor being rated (untenured versus tenured professor). Evaluations however correlate with characteristics (appearance, delivery style, etc.) making difficult to disentangle the effect of the gender of the professor from her/his teaching practices. Two recent studies, MacNell, Driscoll and Hunt (2015) and Mengel, Sauermann and Zölitz (2017), try to overcome this caveat.
MacNell et al. (2015) use an experiment based design on online social science courses. This experiment allows switching the perceived genders of one male and one female professor. The experience actually tests whether differences in student evaluations result from difference in teaching style or from unequal student expectations for male and female professors. A perceived male identity (even if an actual female professor) received significantly higher scores on enthusiasm, knowledge, professionalism or promptness, while student rated the perceived female instructor (regardless of the actual gender of the professor) an average of 0.54 points lower (using a 5-point Likert scale). This experiment indicates that the evaluation bias is not a result of any gendered behavior on the part of the instructors, but of actual bias on the part of the students (equal number of male and female students).
Mengel et al (2017) use a quasi-experiment research design at Maastricht University. Within each course, students are randomly assigned to either a female or a male professor, an institutional feature allowing identifying causal effects. Female faculties receive systematically lower teaching evaluations than their male colleagues. The lower teaching evaluations stem mostly from male students (21% of a standard deviation worse than male professors compared to 8% of a standard deviation lower from female students). The effect is driven by junior professors, and substantially larger for courses with math-related content. Strikingly, despite identical learning materials, male students evaluate material worse when the professor is a female…
Why should we care?
Gender bias in teaching evaluation is an uncomfortable topic. Nevertheless, it needs to be better understood and acknowledged. Feedback from evaluations can affect the self-confidence of young academics. More importantly, evaluations are used for tenure, promotion, compensation, or selection of teaching award winners, and therefore have strong impact on career progression.
Basow, S. A. (1995). Student evaluations of college professors: When gender matters. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87(4), 656-665
MacNell, L., Driscoll, A. & Hunt, A.N. (2015). What’s in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching. Innov High Educ (2015) 40, 291
Mengel, F., Sauermann, J. and Zölitz, U. (2017).Gender Bias in Teaching Evaluations. IZA Discussion Paper No. 11000. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3037907