Nickel And Diming Women of Science January 9, 2007Posted by gordonwatts in physics life, university.
Earlier this year a survey was sent around to all members of our department with the question “could diversity be better in physics?” I don’t see how any sane person could answer no — we have 20% women or so — and, indeed, the department answered as expected. So we had a department-wide (and well attended) meeting last Friday to discuss the issues. One of the introductory slides put up by Marjorie Olmstead made the point about unconscious bias in a way I’d never seen before.
Lets say when you evaluate a woman vs. a man you are only slightly biased. If the man an woman were equal you’d hope you’d go 50-50 in one or the other’s favor. But your bias means you go 52-48 in favor of the man, or 48/52 =0.92. Now, over the course of a career a man or woman is judged many times (interviews, tests, etc.). If that happens 5 times then (48/52)^5 = 0.67, or 10 times it is less than 50%! So a subtle unconscious bias applied 10 times over can make a huge difference! And it would probably be very difficult to point to a specific instance of bias in any one of those 5 or 10 decisions because the bias was fairly subtle.