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Women in Science

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Video clip: Irene suggests that there is often unconscious bias which the Athena SWAN agenda has helped bring to light.

I’ve been on various panels in many different guises where there has been, you know, rank gender bias problems and it’s been completely not obvious that that has occurred, and it’s sometimes it’s because there is a gender problem. It must be quite rare that somebody really is just trying to limit or penalise because of your gender.


Often it’s a sort of cultural thing, a sort of a bias which they’re not even aware they have, and a system in place which precludes thinking more broadly about the fact that there are now a raft of other types of eligible people [for a job] and using the sort of old network and ringing up your mate and those mates, and therefore you just end up with a very small circle, which of course then just exacerbates the problem. But none of it is necessarily intentional.


And it’s often benign. It’s not excusable at all but you can understand how it got there and so the issue is how do you change that? And again, you know, increasingly now with the Athena SWAN agenda people are making, you know, very senior people take time out to think about these things. Go on some gender, you know bias training, implicit bias training, these sorts of things, which gives you just the time to, men or women, think, ‘Actually, I never really thought I did that, but I do.’ And it just helps change and again, without going into details, one particular international panel I was on, there was a staggering issue of, of this, in terms of people who’d been shortlisted for a particular thing. And it was just not even evident to the people who were funding this that this had happened until the international panel said, ‘Do you realise there’s no women on their shortlist?’ That was then brilliantly dealt with because the response was on the next subsequent round of this particular thing, you know, explicitly, this whole issue of, ‘How did you go about recruitment? Who were you headhunting? How did you headhunt?’ etc., etc., was dealt with, was monitored, was audited, and it was, you know, a very sort of fast reactionary approach. But it had to be, and then it nipped it in the bud and it raised the issue wholesale across all these different places. And it’s that sort of thing, which again, I think the onus is on us to raise these issues when we see them. Not to be silent and think, ‘Well, that’s the way it is. I’ve been fine.’ You know you can’t do that.