The damage of implicit gender bias

Implicit bias is made from covert presumptions, unconsciously held on the basis of previous experiences. Being unconscious, it may merges unexpectedly, preventing objective and fair judgements. This is particularly challenging when personal deep-seated thoughts may affect assessment and evaluation of people, as in the case of career promotions.

The need to raise awareness during evaluation to fight implicit bias has been pointed out in the paper “Committees with implicit biases promote fewer women when they do not believe gender bias exists”, recently published by Isabelle Régner, Catherine Thinus-Blanc, Agnès Netter, Toni Schmader and Pascal Huguet in Nature Human Behaviour (August 26, 2019. DOI : 10.1038/s41562-019-0686-3).



As reported in the CNRS site, in this study, the authors analyze the fact that women remain underrepresented in scientific research: at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), across all disciplines, the average percentage of female researchers is 35%. And the higher the scientific research position, the more this percentage declines.

To find out the reason for these disparities, French and Canadian scientists in social and cognitive psychology, with the support of the CNRS Mission for the place of women, studied 40 evaluation committees tasked with evaluating applications for research director (grade A) positions at the CNRS over a period of two years. This is the first time that a research institution has carried out such a scientific study of its practices in the course of an annual nationwide competition covering the entire scientific spectrum.

This study shows that, from particle physics to the social sciences, most scientists, whether male or female, associate “science” and “masculine” in their semantic memory (the memory of concepts and words). This stereotype is implicit, which is to say that most often it is not detectable at the level of discourse. And it is equivalent to that observed among the general population.

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