How Universities Fail Women Inventors, Confirm Gender Bias

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By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-In-Chief, Women 2.0) Bloomberg's Scott Shane wrote about how studies have shown "Male academics are much more likely than their female counterparts to start companies to exploit their inventions".

He writes:

"To figure out whether licensing officers favor the inventions of male inventors for spinoff companies, some colleagues and I conducted an experiment with 239 technology licensing officers at 88 leading research universities.

We randomly assigned a male name and picture to an identical invention disclosure and inventor description to half of the sample and a female name and picture to the other half.

Then we asked the technology licensing officers: “If the inventor wanted to start a company to commercialize this technology, how much would you try to dissuade the inventor?” (The scale ranged from one, meaning “not at all,” to five, meaning “as much as I could.”)

Even though the only difference between the two groups of invention disclosures was that one came from an inventor with a female name and picture and the other from an inventor with a male name and picture, the licensing officers were significantly more likely to report that they would dissuade the female inventor from starting a company.

Don’t think it’s just the male technology licensing officers who did this. The experiment showed that the results held for both male and female tech transfer officers.

Most of the licensing officers weren’t aware of their preferences, revealing a hidden bias. In fact, when we showed them the results, many of them were shocked.

But the finding isn’t that surprising. Elsewhere I wrote about an experiment demonstrating that randomly assigning a female name and picture to a company founder led subjects to offer less compensation."

The experiment highlighted one reason why women in academia are less likely to be founders of university spinoffs like Google and Genentech -- unsupportive technology licensing officers.

While the main factors for this paucity of women-led spinoffs are "relatively small number of senior female academics in science and engineering, greater exposure of male academics to the business community, less commercially relevant research by female professors, and greater personal and professional responsibilities for women academics" -- Shane pointed out another factor at play as the "attitudes of technology licensing officers on university campuses."

What is the solution? Universities will have to change the attitudes by educating the technology licensing officers of hidden gender bias when evaluating invention disclosures, and possibly experimenting with a gender-blind evaluation to ensure hidden bias doesn't continue to prevail.

Anyone in the university community can comment to this?