A Gendered Approach to Science Ethics for US and UK Physicists

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Some research indicates that women professionals—when compared to men—may be more ethical in the workplace. Existing literature that discusses gender and ethics is confined to the for-profit business sector and primarily to a US context. In particular, there is little attention paid to gender and ethics in science professions in a global context. This represents a significant gap, as science is a rapidly growing and global professional sector, as well as one with ethically ambiguous areas. Adopting an international comparative perspective, this paper relies on 121 semi-structured interviews with US and UK academic physicists to examine how physicists perceive the impact of gender on science ethics. Findings indicate that some US and UK physicists believe that female scientists handle ethical issues within science in a feminine way whereas their male colleagues approach ethics in a masculine way. Some of these physicists further claim that these different approaches to science ethics lead to male and female scientists’ different levels of competitiveness in academic physics. In both the US and the UK, there are “gender-blind” physicists, who do not think gender is related to professional ethics. Relying on physicists’ nuanced descriptions this paper contributes to the current understanding of gender and science and engineering ethics.