In this article, we describe the development, implementation, and early results of a theoretically informed, evidence-based workshop intended to drive institutional transformation in gender equity by enhancing bias literacy among faculty. To our knowledge, this is a unique intervention for promoting gender equity in STEMM disciplines by addressing root causes of persistent and recurring gender bias. It is also unique in its approach to understanding implicit bias as a habit that can be changed by adapting approaches proven effective in changing other habitual behaviors. Early results from 17 departments and divisions indicate that attendees found the workshop valuable, that most of those we interviewed are contemplating their own personal biases and approaches to counteract these, and that some are actually deploying the strategies presented in the workshop.
The ultimate test of the workshop’s effectiveness is the extent to which individual faculty members continue to recognize and self-regulate their own implicit biases, and whether changes in their individual attitudes and behaviors collectively result in more equitable hiring, retention, job satisfaction, departmental climate experiences, and advancement patterns for women in their departments. Within the next two years, we will analyze departmental recruiting and retention data for any apparent impact (e.g., a step increase in women hired) after this educational intervention is completed. We will also analyze responses to our campus-wide faculty survey to assess the influence of participation in the Bias Literacy Workshop on departmental climate.
Results thus far show that, in the four to six months after participation in the workshop, three-quarters of the interviewees not only demonstrated increased bias awareness, but described plans to change—or had actually changed—behaviors that they attributed to the workshop. These individuals could not readily name the constructs and strategies presented in the workshop; however, they could explain their characteristics and effects. The strategies most frequently employed to counteract personal bias included stereotype replacement, counterstereotype imaging, individuating, and perspective-taking. Thus, faculty appeared to be engaging in an intentional integration of bias literacy concepts in their professional lives, prerequisites to changing cultural institutional norms (Sevo and Chubin, 2008
). Several statements provided evidence that departmental change could occur even with low workshop attendance as long as key individuals were present and internally motivated.
Interview comments indicated that many male faculty members felt discomfort during the workshop, regardless of where their comments placed them on the stages of change continuum. The men with the strongest negative responses were from female-dominated departments; their comments support the backlash effect described by Rudman (1998)
, where social sanctions for counterstereotypical behavior help maintain cultural stereotypes (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004
). Barriers to change reported by male participants ranged from explicitly denying personal bias to discomfort experienced by well-intentioned, proactive men in broaching gender issues with women. Several interviewees stated that they wanted to support women, but further comments indicated that they may unintentionally create barriers for women’s advancement. Even the most well-intentioned actions may result in “benign” bias (Ryan et al., 2007
). This kind of benign bias may be present in departments where attempts to ensure women and minority representation on committee work may not promote equitable solutions.
Women participants recognized that they were targets of bias, and though it made them uncomfortable, they also recognized themselves as perpetuators of bias, especially bias toward younger women. These findings are consistent with the “queen bee syndrome,” wherein senior women in masculine organizational cultures who advance in their careers may dissociate themselves from their gender (Derks et al., 2011
; Ellemers, 2004
). Recognizing this contradiction, the women we interviewed were actively engaged in counterstereotype imaging to enhance their appreciation of these younger women as physicians and scientists.
In their study to evaluate the readiness of a state university to advance women scientists, J. M. Prochaska and colleagues (2006)
identified four behavioral markers that define action for advancing women scientists: collaborating, mentoring, resource sharing, and generating support. We found elements of these career enhancement activities in our qualitative results, but also identified behaviors that limit advancement such as gender backlash in female-dominated departments, benign bias, and a reluctance by men to mentor women of childbearing age. Prochaska et al. reported that 81% of their participants were classified in the “action” or “maintenance” stages, but found no differences between men and women faculty. Our results show that while both men and women are aware of bias, their comments reflect differences in their stages of change stemming from a gendered perception of bias. Future workshops might benefit from addressing a range of responses (from defensiveness to personal guilt), thus allowing participants to identify and “normalize” their reactions. Because the IAT creates the most emotional response, workshop facilitators should be well versed in the research supporting it. Additionally, future workshops might include a discussion of “benign” bias and how it is implicitly implemented.
The self-selection of the participants is a limitation, but requiring participation could introduce backlash effects resulting in potentially greater limitations. Even though other large public research universities may be similar to UW-Madison, another limitation is that this study is located at a single site. However, the variety of departments involved in this intervention suggests that it could be disseminated to other sites with little if any change.
We found that at least one third of STEMM faculty who were invited attended a 2.5-hr Bias Literacy Workshop, that nearly all found it useful, and that 85%completed a written commitment to promoting gender equity. Analysis of our 4–6 month follow-up interviews revealed that participants experienced heightened sensitivity to bias constructs as they arose in their environments, and that individuals are willing to utilize the bias reduction strategies taught during the workshop. Our findings also illustrate the complexity of the “black box” of gender bias, and the discomfort created in some participants by the sensitive material presented in the workshop. Taken together, our success in developing and launching this workshop and the response of STEMM faculty leave us optimistic that such an educational intervention may be effective in promoting institutional change toward gender equity.