IWiN Working to Advance Women in Neuroscience
According to SfN’s recently published Neuroscience Departments and Programs survey, women represent just more than half of the graduate students in neuroscience, but only 29 percent of all tenure-track faculty and 24 percent of full professors. To help address the disparity, the Society has led a three-year initiative to raise awareness about the issue of gender bias in neuroscience and provide practical lessons and tools for addressing it.
The efforts are part of the Department Chair Training to Increase Women in Neuroscience (IWiN) program, funded by NSF’s ADVANCE program, which seeks to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce.
The program began in 2010 with a series of two-day workshops at academic institutions across the United States to draw attention to the issue and educate university leaders. After five workshops for a total of nearly 150 participants, more than a dozen academic institutions have conducted workshops of their own, essentially replicating the IWiN curriculum. Today, SfN is building on those intensive efforts to communicate more broadly about these issues to the entire neuroscience community and to institutional leadership.
One important topic addressed by the workshops was the issue of “implicit bias.” Though cases of overt sexism still exist, implicit bias — subtle, unconscious discrimination — is much more common and, according to recent research, women are just as likely to perpetrate it as men. Implicit bias is based in cultural stereotypes, such as the widely held (though rarely articulated) belief that men are naturally more intelligent than women, while women make better helpers. Women are often seen as nurturers, while their competence may be overlooked and undervalued.
A recent study from Northwestern University effectively illustrates this concept. The researchers asked 127 faculty members to assess a candidate for a lab manager position. They were asked to evaluate the applicant’s competence and desirability as an employee and to make recommendations about salary and mentoring. All of the faculty members received identical applications, except half of the applicants had male names and half of the applicants had female names.
Overall, the applicants with male names were seen as more competent and more desirable, and faculty members recommended they receive more money and more mentoring. Moreover, both male and female faculty members demonstrated the same bias in their reviews of candidates. In other words, in the university setting, men with the exact same qualifications as women are seen as more capable and stronger candidates, as well as deserving better pay and more guidance.
At the IWiN workshops, the discussions around implicit bias led to many revelatory moments, as participants recognized how often unconscious biases favored men at all levels, from recruitment to promotion. “It was life-changing and I’ll never look at a search committee the same way again,” said an associate dean from Ohio State.
The IWiN initiative also goes beyond the initial set of workshops to reach broader audiences and increase impact at institutions across the United States. On June 6, SfN hosted a webinar focusing on understanding and addressing implicit bias. The recorded webinar is available on the SfN website. In addition, a series of articles and videos will be rolled out focused on issues and experiences involving implicit bias, recruitment, promotion, and creating a favorable climate for women in academia.
During Neuroscience 2013 this fall, IWiN project leaders will offer a workshop on best practices and strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty. Also at the annual meeting, but outside the IWiN grant, the inaugural symposium on Empirical Approaches to Neuroscience and Society this year will look at the data behind gender bias in science. These and other resources will be part of a growing online multimedia library aimed at increasing awareness about gender disparity and expanding the dialogue about possible solutions. Visit the Women in Neuroscience page at SfN.org for more information, including a list of resources and participating IWiN institutions.