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Affirmative action, women, and MIT

I am a third-year graduate student in computer science. I am writing because I found Keith Yost’s April 29 column “It’s good to be king” and the associated counterpoint, Michael Veldman’s “Intelligence variability is not gender-dependent,” to raise interesting questions about the role of affirmative action at MIT. I applaud The Tech for tackling this difficult issue and want to provide insight into a side of the argument that has been neglected.

Both Yost and Veldman raise the question of the justice of affirmative action without discussing the biases that the affirmative action is meant to counteract. The slight edge put in place to make sure women are not overlooked in hiring and admissions decisions barely counteracts (if at all) the implicit biases women faced to get there. For instance, psychology research shows that a resume with a woman’s name needs almost twice the achievements to receive the same promotion status as a resume with a man’s name (Valian, Why So Slow?). (There have also been similar studies with other things such as film manuscripts.) There are many other factors — attribution of credit as influenced by gender bias, advantage that comes from men being more likely to have mentors who will promote their careers, etc. — that tend to give men a much larger implicit boost.

In fact, careful consideration may yield the conclusion that existing mechanisms put in place to counteract bias may be too little, too late. For instance, Yost makes the excellent point that if practices such as higher pay are the only actions in place to counteract bias against women, this can lead to misunderstanding that increases bias against women.

I encourage and challenge The Tech to push MIT to find ways of exposing and counteracting bias against women in ways that address the problems closer to the core.

Jean Yang G