Bias incognito: gender equity in science presentation at ANU

The video of the event can be found here (the presentation starts at 15:00)

A summary of the online discussion is here:

Over 50% of early career scientists in Australian universities and research institutes are women, but among senior academics, this number drops to just 17%.  The loss of women through the “leaky pipeline” represents a serious loss to science: a waste of talent, expertise and investment. A major barrier to the careers of women and minorities in science is unconscious bias : the biases we hold which affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  Even those who consciously support gender equality can be unconsciously biased in their behaviours, speech or decisions.

In recognition of this issue, early career researchers Claire Foster, Steph Pulsford and Megan Evans from the Australian National University recently organized a public seminar on unconscious bias, as part of their involvement in the CEED Early Career Leadership program. The presentation by prominent gender equity expert Deborah May was attended by over 80 people from across the ANU and federal government departments, and broadcast live to many more watching online.

Deborah May speaking at CEED event on unconscious bias at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

“The most significant barrier to full, equal contribution, participation and progression of women in corporate life and science is unconscious bias”, Deborah argued. Importantly, both men and women hold unconscious biases. Deborah highlighted a study where faculty members were provided with identical application materials, yet both men and women ranked male students as more competent, hireable, and more suitable for mentoring than female students

The cumulative effects of unconscious bias cause many women to leave science, resulting in lost productivity and lost intellect. Deborah emphasised that it is possible to tackle unconscious bias by being mindful of our own biases, paying attention to how we are viewing, judging and assessing, and correcting our actions and behaviours. Other actions we can take to address or counteract bias include:

  • Call out inappropriate comments or behaviours that perpetuate bias.
  • Provide career development, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship opportunities for women, knowing that the system is stacked against them.
  • Ensure there is equal access to information and resources so that all can participate equally.
  • Provide unconscious bias training across institutions
  • Demonstrate inclusive leadership.
  • Ensure work flexibility is available at no penalty.
  • Evaluate research outputs commensurate with opportunity and access.
  • Consider new approaches that account for biases, e.g. blind recruitment promotion and recruitment processes.
  • Encourage institutions to show leadership, and be transparent and accountable. e.g. through programs such as the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) Pilot, which CEED nodes the Australian National University, University of Queensland, University of Melbourne and University of Western Australia are all participants in.

This event and the discussion that followed encouraged all of us to challenge our assumptions about ourselves, and about others.  The event was supported by CEED, and hosted by the Fenner Gender Equity in the Sciences group, the Fenner School of Environment and Society, and the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment (CMBE) Gender Equity Committee.

(L to R): Stephanie Pulsford, Megan Evans, Stephen Dovers (Director of the Fenner School), Claire Foster and Deborah May.
(L to R): Stephanie Pulsford, Megan Evans, Stephen Dovers (Director of the Fenner School), Claire Foster and Deborah May.

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