Category Archives: Unconscious Bias

Mona Eltahawy: “Enough With Crumbs — I Want the Cake”

Mona Eltahawy’s op-ed is from the New York Times on May 28, 2019. Her website is hereScreen Shot 2019-05-31 at 12.28.10 PM.

Tiny excerpt:

We must imagine the world we want so that we can redefine what power is, what a powerful woman looks like and how power can be used to subvert rather than uphold patriarchy. We must imagine better. We can imagine better. By imagining that better world, we invent the power required for our freedom.


Building diverse leadership: Michigan’s college of engineering

Screen Shot 2019-05-05 at 7.37.16 AMIn the Chronicle article “An Engineering School With Half of Its Leadership Female? How Did That Happen?”  Alec D. Gallimore, the dean of University of Michigan College of Engineering, traces Michigan’s progress to work begun back in 2001 through an ADVANCE grant. A quick excerpt (although the whole article deserves a read):

Often when I tell people that we have filled half of the top leadership positions at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering with women, I can almost see the unspoken assumption in many of their eyes: They think we did it by passing over better-qualified male candidates.

At the 10 U.S. engineering schools with the largest research budgets, women make up about 17 percent of the faculty. It’s always noticed when women constitute a higher-than-usual proportion of an engineering college’s leadership, but somehow we don’t make the same assumptions about talent when all of a school’s top positions are filled by men.

In our case, the numerical skew toward hiring women comes from expecting more — not less — of our top administrators. Being an accomplished engineer is still a requirement, but it is no longer sufficient. Our leaders also need to be able to see and articulate biases in the organization and propose ways to counter them. It turned out that the women who were hired as leaders in our latest round performed better on those measures.

Dean Gallimore offers this advice:

  • Find out where your playing field isn’t level. [gather data]
  • Train your hiring committees to challenge unconscious biases.
  • To cultivate leaders, ensure equal access to mentors. [launch committees]
  • Redefine “merit” to include “taking inequality seriously.”
  • Diversity is not a charitable cause. It’s about staying competitive.


“Wisdom without apology”

Today, a brief excerpt from Tina Brown’s NYT op-ed What Happens When Women Stop Leading Like Men: JacindScreen Shot 2019-04-01 at 9.43.24 PMa Ardern, Nancy Pelosi and the power of female grace”

It’s past time for women to stop trying to cram themselves into outdated NASA spacesuits designed for an alien masculine physique. Salvation doesn’t lie in pursuing traditional male paths of ejaculatory self-elevation. In drawing on women’s wisdom without apology and pushing that wisdom forward into positions of power, we can soothe our world and, maybe, even save it.


Related: Marisa Porges, “What the Failed All-Female Spacewalk Tells Us About Office Temperature: In a for-men, by-men world, the little things still really do hurt women”

The gender data gap

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 3.59.39 PMIn “The deadly truth about a world built for men – from stab vests to car crashes”: (The Guardian) Caroline Criado-Perez explores which questions get asked in our research, and how they get asked.

“The gender data gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of humanity as almost exclusively male.”

Just one example among many (cancer research, stab vests, safety masks, office temperature, bathroom access, nuclear testing, voice recognition technology, questions Siri can and cannot answer, and more):

Men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in them. But when a woman is involved in a car crashshe is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die. And it’s all to do with how the car is designed – and for whom.

Women tend to sit further forward when driving. This is because we are on average shorter. Our legs need to be closer to reach the pedals, and we need to sit more upright to see clearly over the dashboard. This is not, however, the “standard seating position”, researchers have noted. Women are “out of position” drivers. And our wilful deviation from the norm means that we are at greater risk of internal injury on frontal collisions. The angle of our knees and hips as our shorter legs reach for the pedals also makes our legs more vulnerable. Essentially, we’re doing it all wrong.

Invited to speak on a manel? Not sure how to intervene in mansplaining? Advice for allies

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 4.58.47 PMThe journal Nature offers advice to and from male scientists in “How some men are challenging gender inequity in the lab: Offering support to female colleagues can trigger a culture change that makes science and engineering more equitable for all.”

For advice on the questions above, click on the article. To see more of David Hasselhoff, read here (note the article is form 2015) and check out our archived post.

Here I’ll excerpt from another of the six scientists quoted: Paul Walton, bioinorganic chemist at University of York, UK. His advice is all about systemic changes that rely on data and transparency to even the playing field.

. . . The first message is that equity does not come at the expense of quality. The second is that gender inequality is not just a problem for women to solve — we should all be involved. And the final message is that equity can be achieved.

As a department, we’ve applied peer-reviewed findings about unconscious bias to day-to-day activities such as meetings, awarding promotions and short-listing candidates for open positions. At the beginning, we had a gender bias in our shortlists, so we brought in colleagues to observe the hiring process. They would watch their peers, not the candidates, and then describe the ways in which the selection committee were showing unconscious bias. For example, an observer might record that one faculty member made, on average, ten positive comments for each male candidate, but only five for female candidates.

This was extraordinarily powerful in helping us to change how we behaved. The department also realized that there was a big gap between what men and women knew about the requirements for promotion. To help to fill that gap, we publish depersonalized information internally about what each person has achieved by the time they are promoted.

We have also become more transparent about pay by annually publishing the differences in median pay for men and women in various roles, including professors and technicians, and then showing how any gaps are varying with time. That was successful because we pushed to get the data and publish them.

My motivation is fairness. Women in senior roles often explain that they don’t want to be promoted on the back of gender equity efforts, because it devalues their achievements. But research has shown that for a woman to receive the same rewards as a man, she has to put in more work. Across many types of organization, I estimate that women have to put in 20–40% more effort. This means that men achieve amid a sea of disadvantage against women.

As a man, I don’t want to achieve against a background of unfairness. I want to achieve on a level playing field — so I feel that what I’ve earned is fair, too.

These problems exist for women everywhere. It doesn’t matter which country, university, discipline or culture, or what time it is.


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