Women scientists are less likely to win funding for grants, even when they’re evaluated anonymously, according to a recent working paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The apparent driving force: Women’s penchant for using “narrow” words in their grant proposals, versus men’s tendency toward “broad” words.
The researchers, who analyzed 6,794 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant proposals spanning a decade, also found that the text-based criteria that drove reviewers’ selections didn’t necessarily weed out weaker proposals. In fact, study co-author Julian Kolev told MarketWatch, “Grant awards that were based on broad language actually ended up, fairly often, underperforming the awards proposals that had narrower language.”
The Gates Foundation is known for its efforts to improve health in developing countries. It has a $50.7-billion endowment and is the largest private charity in the world.
“Broad” words were words that appeared across many different topic areas, Kolev said, while “narrow” words were ones that appeared predominantly in one or two topic areas.
For example, “bacteria,” “detection” and “control” were broad words that might appear in proposals on a range of topics, like malaria, reproductive and neonatal health, and tuberculosis. On the other hand, narrow words like “contraceptive,” “oral” and “brain” were more topic-specific.