Phi Beta Cons

‘But You Don’t Look Like an Engineer . . .’

That’s the title of a piece in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education by two female engineering professors who bewail the failure of universities to hire, well, more female engineering professors. The piece is what you would expect, but the beginning and end are especially noteworthy.

The piece begins, “As female engineering professors, we often find that people do a double take when we tell them what we do. ‘There are women?’ they say. ‘In engineering?’” Now, come on — really? I don’t know either of these women, and I think highly of engineers (my father is one), but this sounds made up to me.

More troubling is the conclusion:  “We’d like to say that quality and diversity are completely unrelated characteristics. In fact, they are not. Numerous studies have shown that women are held to higher standards than their male counterparts, and in fact need to be more productive than men to be seen as equally productive. So the next time you are deciding between a male and a female candidate, a rational scientific decision would be to hire the woman.” 

Now, I’m glad that they would like to say that quality and diversity have nothing to do with each other; I agree. And I will accept for the sake of argument that “numerous studies” show women are held to higher standards than men (I would note that, if true, this may result from women being perceived as “diversity hires”). But it does not follow from this that women should be given hiring preferences. The solution is, instead, to hold men and women to the same standards. Not only is this the more “rational” thing to do, but it’s also what the law requires.

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