Gender Bias in Peer Review panels – “The Elephant in the Room"

Publikation aus Policies
Technologie, Innovation und Politikberatung

Helene Schiffbaenker, Peter van den Besselaar, Florian Holzinger, Charlie Mom, and Claartje Vinkenburg

Inequalities and the Paradigm of Excellence in Academia / Chapter 6 , 6/2022


Research councils claim to select excellent grant proposals in order to advance science. At the same time, grant success rates often differ between male and female applicants. In this chapter we address the question of why this is the case. Are male researchers more excellent than female researchers, or does the grant selection process suffer from gender bias? We answer this question using the European Research Council Starting Grant as a case, and focus within that on the life sciences. First, we investigate whether application success relates to gender, after controlling for excellence indicators: scientific productivity, impact, earlier grants, and the quality of the collaboration network. Using ordinal regression, we show that this is the case and that gender bias does indeed play a role in grant selection. Second, we build on interview data with panellists to uncover what lies behind gender bias. We find that general problems in peer review play a role, such as how to define and measure excellence. In addition, the panel composition affects female success rates. Finally, indications for gender stereotyping and gendered evaluation practices were identified.

Keywords: Gender Bias, Review panels, academic axcellence, success rate, grant allocation