By "gender preferential treatment" I mean: Person A is selected ahead of Person B partly because of gender. In other words, Person B would have been selected ahead of Person A had gender not been taken into account.

By "deliberate" I mean: as a matter of policy at the department or university or state or national level, or at the discretion of the committee that makes the decision. This does not include unintentional bias, which might occur as part of human nature.

By "STEM fields" I mean: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

I'm interested in four stages.

  1. Graduate school admission

  2. Postdoc hiring

  3. Professor hiring

  4. Tenure or promotion decision

Answers can be about any country. But please keep in mind that the question is not about why deliberate gender preferential treatment is a good or a bad idea. It is about what happens in reality.

Answers should be supported by either references to publicly available policies, research, or firsthand personal experience (e.g. on hiring committees).

  • 9
    In the UK it is illegal to choose A by gender over B if B would have been preferred, but I think it would be legal to choose A on the basis of gender if A and B are considered to be equally qualified for the job. In practice I'd imagine that would be hard to quantify in academia.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 9:28
  • 18
    It's important to note that non-deliberate bias does exist; the most clear-cut example I know is this research. Faculty shown identical CVs 'rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant'. Does this count as deliberate? How much does intent matter if the nondeliberate is this clear-cut?
    – E.P.
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 12:43
  • 21
    @easymoden00b affirmative action is not the same as "practically giving positions to any woman that applies." Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 15:30
  • 19
    @WetLabStudent when <14% of top university computer science undergraduates are female any company or place of study in the country would put them at the first position in any hiring queue they've set up. After recent public 'diversity' attacks against technology companies positioned in The Valley they're all more than willing to cut off both arms and a leg and to put more females in such roles, not based upon ethic nor quality but solely upon sex and diversity. Like I said believe whatever you want. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 15:38
  • 19
    @easymoden00b If what you say is actually true, then women in IT should experience virtually no unemployment of any kind and men should be vastly more likely to be unemployed. They should be quickly rising to high positions in disproportionate numbers, being thrown higher pay than men to keep them around, etc. Women in IT now have a similar unemployment rate to men (previously men always had lower rates), women certainly don't get paid more than men, and it's so rare for a women to be in high positions that it's news. You are naturally entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.
    – BrianH
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 20:25

5 Answers 5


In Germany, women are in some instances preferred over men for professor positions, to the point of excluding male applicants at all.

  1. There are scholarships and other forms of funding specifically (and exclusively) geared towards women (at all levels). A prominent example is special funding for female professors by BMBF:

    [Secretary of Education Schavan:] "There are not enough female professors, most university teachers are men. [...] 260 new positions have been established [between 2008 and 2012] thanks to the Female Professors Program and have been staffed with women. This is a success - but not nearly enough. Therefore we have initiated a second round."


    Up to three [female] professor positions per university [are possible]. [We make] an additional 150 million Euros available for this purpose until 2017.
    Best-effort translation by myself from the German original.

  2. There are professor positions offered only to women¹.

    For one thing, there are "additional" positions like those mentioned above or e.g. at FU Berlin (1, 2).

    [Departments] could apply for being assigned [such a position]. [...] [The applicants] must bring forward proof of at least one highly qualified female applicant.²
    Best-effort translation by myself from the German original.

    This is probably an effect of additional funds for women being available (cf 1).

    But also regular positions can be designated for women only, see e.g. these commission minutes from FHTW Berlin (page 8):

    One of the two professor positions will be tendered twice as women-only position.

    The [Academic Senate of the FHTW Berlin] passes the motion [with 9 yes, 0 no, 4 abstention].
    Best-effort translation by myself from the German original.

    Official statements regarding systemic discrimination (of men) are hard to come by (even if it is effectively encouraged/enforced by policy at times). See some press on one case here and here.

  3. There are support structures available only to women, such as the concept of Frauenbeauftragte (Am. women's affairs officer) (who have special roles and privileges) and often have funds spent on e.g. training seminars only open for women (which is not always enforced).

  1. You hear stories, but there will often be no paper trail as these things can and tend to be decided behind the curtains. The way hiring of professors works in Germany, if the commission wants phenotype X, they can get it (if they play their cards right). In the gender question, this may be a result of a) policy makers demanding more female professors (by way of blocking any other choice) and b) the funding situation (cf 1), esp. in the light of decreasing funding across the board.).

  2. They then say, "after the position has been assigned to the department, a regular hiring process ensues". I'm not clear if that means male applicants are admitted, or if only the process itself is a regular one.

  • 15
    A little background might help though—the situation regarding women in faculty positions in Germany is much worse than it is in the US. The current attitude is trying to undo the pattern of active discrimination that took place for many decades.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 21:38
  • 17
    @aeismail There more male professors the female, that's true. The implicit assumption that this is bad and the result of "active discrimination" is harmful, imho. The situation is far more complex and unlikely to be remedied by saying, let's hire only women for a while. Also, I refuse to agree to having my career sabotaged by active, intentional gender-based discrimination for (vacuous, imho) reasons outside of my control. Some "feminists" try to establish some kind of original sin there, and I refuse to buy into that.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 9:21
  • 14
    @aeismail That said, the facts of my answer stand. At least in this version, I have consciously tried to avoid judgement, hence reasoning. The system actively, consciously discriminates men today -- that's a fact. Whether you think that's okay is another question.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 9:24
  • 5
    @WetLabStudent I don't think how such data serves to answer this question better. Since I don't think (as I said above) that a simple percentage is enough justification for the measures, and there's no room here for an in-depth discussion, I'd rather not include anything like a justification attempt. People will have to make up their own minds and decide whether the ends justify the means, and whether the ends are well-chosen.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 10:17
  • 6
    @Doug Spoonwood The proponents of these measures probably think that there are no differences between genders, so any real-life difference must be the result of discrimination. It's an ideological view ignoring interest and performance. And they focus on high-status jobs only (not on, e.g., jobs outside academia with a high mortality rate). I think the goal here is to a) assist unqualified academics and b) to promote conflict between genders. Just imagine the situation reversed with quotas for men. There would be an outcry. You can't create a fair world via unfair methods. Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 15:11

It's rather subtle trying to decide what counts as gender preferential treatment. For example, suppose the hiring committee decides to interview Bob, Carl, and Dave. As a sanity check, someone goes through the applications from women to see whether anyone was overlooked, and they are impressed by Alice's application. There's some debate about whether she looks quite as strong on paper as the other three, but the department decides to interview her as well. Alice is extraordinarily impressive in person, and once all the interviews are complete and the department has learned more about her work, she is the unanimous first choice. Does this count as preferential treatment? A male applicant might not have been rescued from being overlooked the way Alice was, but he might have been less likely to be overlooked in the first place, so it's difficult to give an objective answer (it depends on which counterfactual scenario you imagine). Gender was not relevant for the decision once all the information was gathered, but deliberate steps were taken based on gender to minimize the potential for bias in the process.

In my experience with mathematics in the U.S., these sorts of steps are pretty common. In the committees I've served on (for both admissions and hiring), people have often gone out of their way to try to identify diverse sorts of candidates and make sure they are not overlooked or disadvantaged. Not everyone participates eagerly in this, but some do it out of conviction that it's intrinsically worthwhile, while others play along to keep the administration from complaining. On the other hand, I've never seen this process extend to advantages in the final decision. In particular, I haven't seen a case in which Alice was hired or admitted instead of Bob just because she was female, although the committee was more impressed by Bob than Alice otherwise.

Tie breakers are the closest I've seen to an explicit preference. In graduate admissions many decisions are easy, but there's always a (small) group of comparable candidates right near the borderline for admission, where nobody can give a compelling argument for why one is superior to another. Within that group, being female could prove an advantage: if Alice and Bob are equally strong candidates in other ways, but Alice would help bring gender balance to the department and Bob would not, then that's a good reason to admit Alice. This doesn't generally arise in hiring, since few enough people are hired that there are many strong opinions and the hiring committee is unlikely to decide two candidates are truly tied. However, it can happen in admissions, which is a lower-stakes process carried out on a larger scale and with less information. I'm mainly mentioning it for completeness, since few applicants are actually close enough to the cut-off for this to matter.

  • 8
    This is exactly my experience from a department in Germany. An additional thing was the unofficial policy of the university president to prefer female professors to male ones if they were ranked equal on a list forwarded by the hiring committee. The solution, if you did not agree with this, was simple: Always express your preferences clearly. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 10:09
  • 3
    @GregorBruns Afaik, if you invite a woman for interviews and not put her on the shortlist, special reasoning is necessary (not so for men). A common solution is to not invite women for interview if you are not already certain they can make it to the top.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 13:37
  • 6
    and to add a bit, contrary to what some anti-feminists might believe ... the same thing happens in fields where women dominate. In nutrition, gender studies, etc. they make a conscious effort not to overlook qualified men. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 14:47
  • 3
    @WetLabStudent "and to add a bit, contrary to what some anti-feminists might believe ... the same thing happens in fields where women dominate. In nutrition, gender studies, etc. they make a conscious effort not to overlook qualified men. " But are there special scholarship programs and other sorts of support networks for men to anywhere near that such support networks exist for women in male-dominated STEM fields? Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 2:46
  • 5
    @DougSpoonwood probably not because there is very little money in those fields to begin with. My point was about hiring. In gender studies and nutrition, there is affirmative action for men. I was simply stating that as is, I was not talking about scholarships and support networks. Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 6:41

I can only provide answer about Graduate school admission.

In the countries where graduate school admission is based on written exams and the student names on the exam papers are sealed when grading, the gender preferential treatment is next to impossible.

In Taiwan, where I live, this was the case a few decades ago. However, the sytem has been changed to include written exams, oral exams and recommendation letters in some cases, no one knows how much bias is there. As far as I know, there are more female scientists than in the past. I will find some hard data if there is some available in English and update my answer here.


The University of Melbourne has instituted the sex of the applicant as a requirement for some positions.


On February 2017 Trump signed laws designed with the purpose of promoting women in STEM.

Multiple universities have Women In Science Programs (WISP) that "promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity for women", sometimes along with "minorities, persons with disabilities and veterans". Some of these programs involve paid internships for women only.

The Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program is an internship program for women and under-represented minority students is a 10-Week Summer Internship sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy. It is directed towards students who are pursuing academic majors in science, technology, engineering, and math. Only women and "minority" students need apply.

In 2016, seven global engineering and tech companies (IBM, Intel, General Motors, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cummins, Caterpillar, and Johnson Controls) piloted re-entry, paid internship programs for people who had taken career breaks of two years or longer. In IBM, selected participants are all women.

In Australia, there's the Edith Dornwell Internship for Women in STEM, which is a program provides that one woman each year with three months full time or six months part time fully paid employment with an organisation whose focus is on STEM.

These are but a few examples of the many programs that result in women generally being favored over men. A 2015 study demonstrated an overall 2-to-1 advantage for women in being ranked first for the job in any STEM field.

  • Fixed an apparent typo; please rollback if intended. Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 20:46
  • Downvoted for lack of context. Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 9:54
  • @henning--reinstateMonica : What do you mean with "lack of context"? I'd gladly add some context if you tell me what you think is missing here; Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 14:37

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