CEED early career researchers Megan Evans, Claire Foster and Stephanie Pulsford at the Australian National University recently organised 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. (see a .pdf of the presentation here)
Unconscious bias is the lens through which we interpret what we hear and what we see, and informs how we think about ourselves and others. Even those who consciously support gender equality can be unconsciously biased in their behaviours, speech or decisions.
“The most significant barrier to full, equal contribution, participation and progression of women in corporate life and science is unconscious bias,” says Deborah May.
Importantly, both men and women hold unconscious biases. May 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.
Over 50% of early career researchers 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.
May 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 calling out inappropriate comments or behaviours that perpetuate bias; and providing career development, mentoring, coaching and sponsorship opportunities for women, knowing that the system is stacked against them.
The CEED Early Career Leadership program is an initiative to develop environmental leaders by equipping early career researchers with the scientific and leadership skills necessary to create positive environmental change. The program aims to both benefit participants’ careers and build on the CEED legacy.
This 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. A video of the event can be found here (the presentation starts at 15:00). A Storify of the online discussion can be viewed here.