Working Towards Gender Equity in Science

Broader impacts associated with NSF grants come in all forms and address issues such as:

  • public understanding of the science NSF funds
  • engaging the next generation of elementary school children in science to nurture the excitement of our future generation of science leaders
  • bringing computational science education to the biological sciences at the undergraduate level to ensure that the newest biologists to enter the field can succeed at the quantitative, predictive, theory driven cell and molecular biological sciences that NSF supports.

This week, the Editors share an example of Broader Impacts from a researcher supported by MCB that addresses the issue of unconscious bias and gender equity in science.

As part of her broader impacts, Dr. Karen Fleming, professor of Biophysics at Johns Hopkins University, is hosting a series of professional workshops focusing on gender equity in science. The goal of these workshops is to empower women in the STEM fields with tools for success. The workshops do this by facilitating a dialogue between graduate students, postdoctoral students and faculty members on diversity topics highlighted by readings from the social psychology literature. Topics covered to date include: unconscious bias, the confidence gap, and emotion in the workplace.

In her first workshop, Dr. Fleming discussed Jo Handelsman’s 2011 PNAS paper entitled “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students.” This paper investigated women and men faculty’s response to hiring a male or female for a laboratory manager position based on the exact same application except the first name was either John or Jennifer. One extraordinary finding from this paper that contradicts what many would expect is that both men and women faculty discriminated against the female applicant. The reason for this observation is thought to be unconscious bias, which has been another subject of one of Dr. Fleming’s workshops. Prior to this meeting, attendees were encouraged to measure their own unconscious biases using online modules put forth by Project Implicit. Another key finding from the literature that was discussed this year included the confidence gap. Systematic confidence differences between men and women are documented – women exhibit a tendency to underrate themselves, while men overrate themselves. This confidence gap becomes detrimental to a woman’s career when it hinders her ability to take action in the workplace. The most recent workshop considered the topic of emotion in the workplace. This is not viewed equally for both genders: studies have shown that men and women displaying emotion in the workplace are rewarded and penalized, respectively.

After a brief review of the findings of each journal article, the studies are discussed in-depth along with the applications of the findings to the social context of academia. Although current graduate students have raised concerns about the future of equity in the academic science workplace, tenured faculty have noted the leaps towards gender equity that have occurred in the past decades. Discussions have concluded that fostering an attitude of awareness, openness, and accountability of both men and women in science will aid in achieving gender equity in science. Before these workshops were available at JHU, there were few opportunities to regularly discuss these issues because neither unconscious bias nor gender equity training is mandatory in the sciences at many universities, JHU included.

Future seminars in the 2015 academic calendar include a panel of tenured women faculty in various science departments who will answer questions and comment on their experiences with gender equity in science. Further reading and links to the primary literature mentioned above can be found on Dr. Karen Fleming’s blog on achieving gender equity in science.

Do you have a great example of broader impacts that you would like to share? Please email the editors at mcbnews@nsf.gov or write to us using a feedback form. 

2 comments

  1. I’ve been attending these workshops every month. They generate eye-opening discussions about the issues faced by women in the STEM fields, and about solutions to these inequities.

    Like

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