A bit of info about racism and sexism

There’s been a lot said online in the last few days about feminism and racism. But one thing I’ve read in that time has really struck me. It wasn’t a comment piece or blogpost. It was a report of a bit of academic research. I don’t know how much it’s been noticed outside academia, so I thought it was worth telling you about it.

If you’re applying for a PhD, it’s common to contact the department in advance and have an informal chat. This is where you’ll get a heads up on what they’re looking for, find out if it’s the right PhD for you and if it’s worth applying and maybe start to form relationships. Three US researchers (Katherine Milkman, from the University of Pennsylvannia, Modupe Akinola of Columbia University and Dolly Chugh of New York University) wanted to know if it was a level playing field.

They looked at how university professors responded to an email, seemingly from a prospective student, asking for an informal meeting. They sent emails to 6,500 professors, claiming to be a student interested in doing a PhD and asking to come in and meet them.

They names of the fictional students were varied so some appeared male, some appeared female. Also so that they appeared to have different ethnicities. The researchers wanted to know if gender and ethnicity made a difference to the response. And lo and behold it did.

Table showing response ratesEmails from white males were LEAST likely to be completely ignored (26.5%). White females were slightly more likely to be ignored, but not that much more likely (29.8%). The people MOST likely to be ignored were Chinese females (46.9%), then Indian males (41.8%), then Indian females (37.7%).

Interestingly, for white, black and Chinese students, females were more likely to be ignored. Whereas for Hispanic and Indian students, males were more likely to be ignored. I’ve no idea what that’s about.

Some professors replied to emails, but then said they couldn’t meet up. So as you can see in the table, we’ve got stats for emails ignored and also for meetings denied.

White males are least likely to be denied a meeting (52.4%), white females were only fractionally more likely to be denied a meeting (52.9%). Then, in order, increasingly likely to be denied a meeting were Hispanic, black, Chinese and Indian students of both genders. Indian males (68.2%) were the least likely to get a meeting.

Interestingly, for every ethnicity but white, females were slightly more likely than males to get an actual meeting. The factor that made the biggest difference overall was ethnicity. Yes, I was surprised too, but there’s the facts.

Now, this is just one study, looking at one pretty specific thing. It’s not a summary of the entire state of gender relations in the world. It just tells you something about life for prospective PhD students applying to US universities. Also, the research hasn’t been done in the UK, so we don’t know if it would be different here.

But what it tells me is that if I wasn’t white and I was trying to study at a US university, then my ethnicity would have a subtle but very real effect on how easy that was to sort out. A much bigger effect, it would appear, than my gender, despite what white feminists might think.

So, you know, I’m going to bear that in mind. Because in the Matriarchal Utopia our feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.

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