A gender bias habit-breaking intervention led to increased hiring of female faculty in STEMM departments
An intervention treating gender bias as a changeable habit led to more gender-balanced hiring of university faculty over the next two years.
Gender bias, particularly unconscious and unintentional bias held by individuals, persists across academic fields including science, medicine, and engineering. In the previous study, the authors developed a 2.5-hour workshop that treated gender bias as a deeply ingrained habit that could be countered using a habit-breaking approach: increasing awareness of the habit, generating willingness and confidence to change the habit, and practicing new behaviors to replace the habit. They offered the workshop at a large public university, across departments housing faculty in science, medicine, and engineering, and found that the intervention improved individual self-reports of gender bias awareness and departmental climate.
In this follow-up study, the authors further assess real, institutional-level outcomes from the habit-breaking intervention. Tracking faculty composition over the two years before and the two years following the workshop offerings, they compared the gender balance of departmental hiring and attrition between departments that participated in the workshop and departments that did not receive the intervention.
Over the two years following a 2.5-hour departmental-level workshop that presented gender bias as a changeable habit, departments reached gender parity in hiring new faculty.
- In the two years before the workshop, intervention departments and control departments hired similar proportions of women to the faculty (32% vs 33% respectively).
- In the two years following the workshop, intervention departments hired approximately 18% more women than before the workshop, while control departments continued to hire a similar proportion of women to the faculty (32%).
- Overall, the proportion of women on the faculty in intervention departments did not change following the workshop, because of a decrease in attrition of men and no change in the attrition of women from the faculty, compared to before the workshop.
Though the increase in the proportion of women hired was only marginally statistically significant (p < 0.07) because of limited sample size, these findings provide promising support for the impact of a habit-breaking approach to gender bias.
The study was conducted across 98 departments or divisions in 6 schools housing faculty in science, medicine, and engineering at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Departments were organized into 92 clusters, which were pair-matched by school or college, size, and one of four disciplinary categories: biological sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, or arts and humanities. In each pair, clusters were randomized to either the intervention group, or a waiting-list control group that was offered the intervention following the study’s conclusion. However, less than 2% of faculty in control groups attended the optional intervention session, allowing them to remain effective controls for comparison. Intervention departments were offered a 2.5-hour interactive workshop presenting gender bias as a habit, describing forms of gender bias, and discussing strategies for breaking the gender bias habit. (Further detail on the workshop is offered in a summary of the prior study.) The study tracked rates of hiring and attrition by gender in each departmental cluster, over the two years before workshops began, and over the two years after all workshops were completed.