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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Recognising and Combating Gender Bias in the Workplace

So, this research summarises the ways that gender-bias is alive and well in academia. In other words: it was my disheartening read of the day.

In sum, here are some of ways that female-ness affects individuals in academia (according to what seems like some pretty well-grounded research.)

...I'll let you guess whether these elements are in favour of being female, or not.!

Some Affects of Gender-Bias in Academia

1. The qualities/traits that supervisors draw attention to in reference letters.
2. The perceived hire-ability for academic jobs
3. What students expect/ask of their professors
4. The criteria by which students evaluate professors in formal and informal evaluations
5. The likelihood that other scholars will choose to cite our work
6. The way other colleagues will interact with us when it comes to things like supervisons, staff meetings, etc.
7. The pay received for same or similiar jobs 
8. (There are more...)

Also, this kind of gender bias is not limited to academia, but studies show it is also prominent in politics and the workplace more generally. 

What causes this kind of discrimination?

Well, unfortunately there are some people who are just jerks. These jerks dislike or distrust certain individuals or groups of individuals and don't want to offer them equal opportunities...but I assume a lot of these inequalities are the result of unconscious bias (click here for definition/explanation) being at work in good and well-meaning people.

I think that is worth repeating.

A lot of these inequalities are the result of unconscious bias
at work in good and well-meaning people.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied did a Ted-Talk which poignantly revealed the reality of gender bias. Give it a listen by clicking here. It might surprise you. 

My intent is not to come off as preachy or hypocritical. Truth be told, I hold unconscious bias, too---we all do. In fact, to my shame and dislike, I hold unconscious [negative] bias even when it comes to the capabilities of females in academia; when I'm reading a particularly noteworthy text I assume its author to be male. Catching myself at this simultaneously humbles, irritates, and disheartens me. (I caught myself at this just yesterday.)

In fact, studies show that we can even hold unconscious biases against ourselves which affect our performance. Check out Shen Zhang's study on mathematics tests, which suggests that women often underperform when they are being identified as women. A summary of it can be found on Smithsonian. 

Anyway, every cloud has its silver lining and every shitty statistic has the potential to promote change. (...Right?)

Image from Hyperbole and a Half's blogpost on depression

Some Avenues for Positive Change

1. We ALL need to think a bit more carefully and thoroughly at the way we interpret things and individuals. The chance of us holding onto an unconscious bias is extremely likely, but GOOD NEWS, if you dig around your unconscious with a bit of intentionality, you will unearth some shitty stuff! (Keep reading...the good news will come, I promise...) And then you find a way to scrape it away or toss it out! TOSS.IT.OUT!

2. Brainstorm some concrete ways that you can avoid or counter the tendencies of unconscious bias. Are you writing a reference letter for a female student? Make sure you speak to the skills asked for in the job rather than, say, to her ability to care for the elderly. (IT HAPPENED. SERIOUSLY.) Are you evaluating a female professor? Don't write off her confidence or assertiveness as "bitchyness" when you categorise the same action (done by males) as confidence. (AGAIN. IT HAPPENED.) The list can go on.

3. Listen to females when they speak in meetings. Of course, listen to males too, but studies show that when females are listened to in meetings, their original ideas are all-too-often attributed to males. Listen to individuals when they speak, and give those individuals credit for the ideas they bring forth.

4. Consider publishing / applying to jobs with your initials rather than your full name. This goes for females AND males. While it is mostly females who reap the negative results of gender bias, if only females start using their initials it may not have as strong an affect as if males and females both choose this. For comparison, think of LGBT individuals who, prior to legalisation of marriage, could not use terms like 'spouse' or 'wife/husband' to refer to their significant other. As a result, the term "partner" began to become more prominent. But, and this is important: THE TERM WAS NOT ISOLATED TO LGBT COMMUNITIES. Instead, straight individuals (married or unmarried) also began to also use the term "partner," and a type of solidarity was created. In affect, it acknowledged the limits of stigma-free vocabulary that LGBT individuals had at their disposal and decided to use the same vocabulary. I think we can draw a line of comparison for the use of full names when it comes to publishing and job applications. For better or for worse, recogniseably female names are met with unconscious bias. This affects publications, job hirings, and citations or engagement with scholarship. (And probably more.) A natural way to eliminate the affects of this bias is to remove the indication of gender.

(This fourth one is really really shitty and sad to think of doing, but I view it as a short-term fix for a problem that will take awhile to change.)

And, because I just remembered about this minutes before pressing "publish" ...check out these tips directed toward junior women scholars given by tenured female professors.

Okay, that's it. I'm really curious to hear your thoughts about this. Feel free to comment below or to PM me.

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