Implicit Bias in Academia: A Challenge to the Meritocratic Principle and to Women’s Careers - And What to Do about It
This paper examines the mechanisms behind the loss of female talent in academia. It is well known and amply documented that in Europe and elsewhere a significantly larger number of women than men do not reach the higher echelons and leadership positions in academia when compared to the number of entrants into the profession (usually doctoral graduates). Moreover, this situation is generally not improving at a satisfactory rate, although good efforts are undertaken. In a 2012 paper LERU argued that the “leaky pipeline”, as the phenomenon is sometimes called, undermines the quality of research and represents an unacceptable loss for academia, the economy and society.
The paper showed what LERU and other universities are and should be doing to address gender imbalances. Looking at the question of what hampers women’s progression in academic careers, the current paper focuses on the phenomenon of bias. A large body of research points to implicit bias as a significant impediment to women’s advancement in an academic career. Reviewing available evidence, the paper shows how implicit bias plays a role in processes where important career impacting decisions are made, i.e. in academic recruitment, retention and advancement, as well as in the allocation of research funding. The paper sets out possible actions to counter implicit bias. It is targeted at all those responsible for good governance at universities, at research funding organisations at national and European levels, at leaders, policy makers and all other members of the scientific community and society at large.