Funding organisations need to make a deliberate effort to address unconscious bias. The most important priority is to raise awareness of the significance of unconscious bias and its impact on decision-making procedures.
The key points at a glance:
Empirical findings10 which show that (equivalent) performances of women and men are often assessed differently constitute the basis for dealing with unconscious bias.
- Such different assessments are due to different role expectations and unconscious bias related to typical “male” and “female” abilities.
- Historically, research (in particular, natural sciences) has been dominated by men, which is why scientific activities, especially in technical fields, are still mainly associated with men.
- This results in a risk that reviewers have unconscious biases towards applicants who, as far as their gender and/or other demographic factors (ethnicity, social origin, etc.) are concerned, do not correspond to their own profiles or the historical standard of a “typical” researcher (lack of fit).11
- These different and unjust assessments may contribute to causing women to drop out of their scientific careers.12 The leaky pipeline illustrates the points in the course of women’s scientific careers at which they tend to drop out and provides the related statistical information. Everyone tends to take mental “shortcuts”, making generalisations, as they facilitate orientation in our everyday lives. To a certain extent, everyone is biased.13
Implicit bias does not depend on the intelligence, education and gender14 of decision-makers and is often at odds with people’s own explicit values.
As part of its Strategy for Gender Equality and Diversity and in addition to other measures, the FWF wants to guarantee a fair and objective review system which is based exclusively on previous scientific research performance and competition.
The materials presented below are intended to make people reflect on their own positions and roles in the scientific review procedure, raise their awareness of the emergence of unconscious bias and improve the way in which bias is dealt with.
This list will be continuously supplemented and updated. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact Ms Marlene Hock at marlene.hock(at)fwf.ac.at.
- Royal Society:Understanding unconscious bias – YouTube (duration: 02:59)
Description: A short video and materials on the topics of unconscious bias and diversity. This video is used by many organisations throughout Europe which fund and conduct research in their evaluation and recruiting processes.
- Canada Research Chair Program:Unconscious bias training module (chairs-chaires.gc.ca)
“Bias in Peer Review”, mandatory learning – bias module (duration: approx. 30min, you may proceed at your own pace)
Description: Interactive English-language training module for reviewers to improve their understanding of unconscious bias. The video shows the impact that unconscious biases may have on the peer review process. It also shows strategies for mitigating bias in the review process. English subtitles and a full text version are available.
- Implicit Association Test (IAT) (duration: approx. 10min)
Description: The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a socio-psychological instrument for measuring the strength of a person's subconscious association between individual elements. The IAT is mainly used for analysing implicit attitudes and bias against certain groups or in connection with people’s origin, gender, sexuality, age and religion.
- Rethinking Research Assessment: Unintended Cognitive and Systems Biases | DORA (sfdora.org)
Graphic representation of various types of unconscious bias and their impact.
10 E.g., Wenneras and Wold 1997; Paludi and Bauer 1983; Fine and Handelsman 2006
11 Van Veelen and Derks 2020
12 Gvozdanović 2018
13 A recruiting experiment has, for example, shown that those who believe that they are objective give more biased reviews than those who do not. Kaatz et al. 2014
14 Moss-Racusin et al. 2012, Steinpreis et al. 1999