Creating Awareness of Bias in the Review Process

Funding institutions also have to deal with unconscious bias and its consequences. The first step is to make evaluators aware of the meaning and impact of unconscious bias in the decision-making process.

The FWF has undertaken to ensure a fair and objective review system that focuses solely on the research achievements and competitive aspects. The debate starts with empirical findings that show how the same achievements of women and men are often evaluated differently.

The FWF evaluates the scientific performance of the applicants in accordance with the program category, the program objectives contained therein, and the formulated evaluation criteria. In the course of the decisions, it establishes a connection between the academic age, the career stage of the applicant, and their scientific achievements to date. Applicants have the possibility to indicate reasons for career breaks or gaps in their academic development.

“The subjugation of women in the prevailing social system speaks not against the women, but against the system.” Hertha Firnberg

The most important findings on the topic of unconscious bias at a glance:

  • Different role expectations and unconscious bias regarding typical “male” and “female” abilities are the cause of the unequal evaluation and treatment of women and men.
  • Historically speaking, science (above all the natural sciences) has been a male-dominated field, so scientific activities – especially in technical fields – continue to be primarily associated with men.
  • There is a danger that reviewers are unconsciously biased toward applicants who do not match their own profile (lack of fit) or the historically developed norm of a “typical” scientist with regard to gender and/or demographic factors (ethnicity, social background, etc.)
  • These different and unjustified evaluations, and the feeling of not “fitting in” (i.e., the lack of representation and role models) can occasionally cause candidates of underrepresented groups (women, people with disabilities, people from different countries) to give up their scientific career. Taking women as an example, these drop-outs during scientific careers can be statistically identified and verified by the leaky pipeline.
  • Everyone takes mental “shortcuts” and makes generalizations because they simplify orientation in daily life. Therefore, everyone is biased to a certain degree.
  • Implicit bias is independent of the intelligence, education, and gender of the person taking the decisions, and often contradicts their personal, explicit values. Which makes it all the more important to become aware of these effects in everyday life.
  • Awareness can result in an approach that, in addition to structural measures, leads to research being an open field of work, opening up opportunities for as many different people and perspectives as possible, and exploiting the full potential of excellent scientists. This is the only way to guarantee the quality of excellent research in the long term.
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