18 March 2019

UCPH ready to discuss Unconscious Bias

Audience for the event Taking Turns with Unconscious Bias. Bente Merete Stallknecht, Hilda Rømer Christensen, Lourdes Cantarero Arevalo, Vanessa Hall. 

More than 100 guest showed up to discuss unconscious bias in academia, when the Coordination for Gender Research for International Women’s Day held an event under the theme: Taking Turns with Unconscious Bias.

Importance of recognising biases at UCPH from a top-down perspective

Prorector Bente Merete Stallknecht and Associate Dean Andreas de Neergaard joined the Coordination for Gender Research in emphasizing the importance of highlighting bias in academia. Both de Neergaard and Stallknecht welcomed a discussion on how to approach the existing biases and inequalities at UCPH.

Implicit bias or unconscious bias – we might be aware of our biases

Postdoc Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic from Roskilde University presented the origin and meaning of the concept of bias. Our bias has influence on thoughts and interactions, as well as it affects us physically and emotionally. She also discussed whether the term implicit bias might be more accurate regarding many of our interactions than the term unconscious bias; we may be aware of our own inappropriate immediate associations from time to time. Such as these associations are actually our own bias we can confirm that bias might be implicit but not necessarily unconscious. Due to the biased nature of these spontaneous thoughts Munch-Jurisic indicated that we should not always act on our ‘fast associations’. The same applies to our differentiated feeling of empathy for people we meet, as this feeling adjust to and reflects our biased fast associations. Rather, we should apply strategies for changing this emotionally and physically learned bias; this includes acting in variance with our feeling of comfort.

Personal experiences and testimonies are important and needs a recipe to be handled in academia

Professor Judy Robertson from the University of Edinburgh introduced an pragmatic approach on how to make the university a more fair place for employees as well as students. As editor of the book “EqualBITE: Gender Equality in Higher Education” she shortly presented the concept of ‘recipes’ for handling biases. In short, the recipes are based on personal experiences and contain strategies for how to handle misrepresentation, discrimination and like unfair situations – both when being biased and when experiencing bias. Robertson also underlined the importance of creating a space for these testimonies in order to cover the affects and nuances of bias in academia. However, in addition to that she emphasized the need for the universities to take responsibility, exemplified by University of Edinburghs commitment to Athena SWAN Charter, an initiative that credits universities for progressive and continuous efforts on improving gender equality.

Explicit bias is a thing and follows on unconscious bias - the universities needs to take action to structurally fight bias

Postdoc Lea Skewes from Aarhus University, put forward the third feminist perspective on unconscious bias in academia. She gave a presentation of her research on attitudes towards gender equity at a Danish university. To conduct this research the Moderns Sexism Scale was applied; a standardized social psychological questionnaire by means of which it is possible to calculate the score average and thereby the scope of potentially existing sexist attitudes at the university. The results indicated explicit sexist attitudes as well as dismissal of feminist movements as e.g. the MeToo movement. Skewes stressed the critical demand for the universities to make an institutionalized effort to structurally fight the biases causing inequalities, specifically by introducing both a zero tolerance policy toward sexist behaviour and a plan for action in case of sexual harassment.

Make the changes needed in order to recognize existing bias and inequalities

Finally, diversity manager at UCPH, Maria Mortensen and PromoteMe campaign leader Vanessa Hall joined the penal in a discussion with the audience on e.g. the question if bias is to be conceptually comprehended as implicit, unconscious and/or explicit. Whether and how bias should be approached structurally or individually was also discussed and led to following recommendations: Recognize the existence of bias and inequalities, listen to and respect each other and take lead individually as well as institutionally in making the changes needed.

Thank you all for joining us, and hopefully we’ll see you next year!