Marcela Linkova on LERU´s implicit bias paper


Marcela Linkova

I would like to first congratulate LERU on the paper Implicit bias in academia: A challenge to the meritocratic principle and to women’s careers – And what to do about it, it is very comprehensive and addresses the issue in its complexity. It is also a topic close to my heart. Last year I published a paper on how bioscientists in the Czech Republic construct excellence, and I have to say that I continue to be taken aback by some of the opinions that say that women lack the birds’ view and synthetic thinking. Some of these lab leaders even use gender balance to argue for distribution of work within their teams where men do the grant writing and vision development and women do the repetitive tasks. Gender bias is one of the most important if not the most important issues facing research and higher education because it permeates the entire research and higher education system and affects the entire career ladder.

The issue is also important for the Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation. It is included in our Work Programme 2018-2019, and we will be preparing a position paper following the work we are doing to exchange on National Action Plans and Strategies. One thing that is very clear is that there is a significant divergence between the EU 15 and the newer states in terms of actions and indicators foreseen. Actions that we see in the National Action Plans and Strategies and are relevant for the topic of gender bias are related firstly to RFOs. The measures include for example having gender observers or gender experts, having gender balance on evaluation committees and among evaluators. The second area of actions where gender bias is relevant is structural change: 16 NAPS mention gender equality plans for RPOs and 12 for RFOs as an instrument to promote cultural and institutional changes. Finally, 9 NAPS plan to increase gender competences in RPOs and RFOs, and clearly gender bias is an important topic for such training.

Now about the issues that I like in the paper. One is that is mentions power: we do not often see this in policy documents, as if power were a dirty word. But it is important not to shy away from this because power is, after all, part and parcel of social relations, and we cannot tackle gender equality without attending to power.

I also like the threefold focus on leadership, structural measures and effective implementation including the stress on monitoring and evaluation. We can sometimes encounter what has come to be termed gender fatigue. Gender seems to be all around, and some people feel enough already. One reason for this is that there has not been enough attention to monitoring and evaluation. But if we don’t do this, how can we go back and ask why progress is not being made. So the stress on monitoring and evaluation in the paper is very important.
For future action it will be important to address gender bias from an intersectional point of view. There is very little in Europe on evaluation and intersectionality from the perspective of class and socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race or LGBTQ. All these other axes of inequality intersect with gender, and we need to know more.

Trainings are one important part of the actions undertaken by LERU members and are recommended in the paper. What would be great is if based on the experience with the gender bias trainings undertaken by LERU members, a workshop could be organized in not too distant future on the effectiveness of the trainings for various target audiences.

The last point I want to make will not be easy. We need to talk about the complicity of science and scientists in perpetuating gender biases. Last year, Angela Saini published a highly acclaimed book Inferior that looks into how science has historically got women wrong, and what emerges, until this day and time, is how science and scientists are complicit in constructing women’s inferiority through alleged research findings. Findings that often cannot be corroborated. Findings that have been now debunked as myths. This should alert us to the need to address gender equality in research in its complexity and recognize – precisely through the workings of gender bias – how important it is to treat gender as a self-standing issue combining both the aspect of human resources and the knowledge that gets produced. Because we really cannot separate the person producing the knowledge and the knowledge that gets produced. The evidence is there today. So the issue of gender bias is not just about researchers and how they treat other researchers but also about the knowledge they produce.

To finish on a positive note, the good thing about this is that we can all start with our own daily practices and behaviours, with our own responsibility for this situation and for stopping gender bias when we see it. But as the LERU report rightly shows, this needs to go hand in hand with a strong leadership stance, structural measures and evaluation of those measures.