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Space Telescope Science Institute
Hard Science/Soft Skills

Dr. Joan T. Schmelz

Unconscious Bias in Hiring, Promotions, and Tenure

  Dr. Joan T. Schmelz
  John Bahcall Auditorium
  2pm February 10,2015

We all have biases, and we are (for the most part) unaware of them. Unconscious bias is NOT prejudice. In fact, men and women both unconsciously devalue the contributions of women. This can have a detrimental effect on grant proposals, job applications, and performance reviews. Sociology is way ahead of astronomy in these studies. For example, when evaluating identical application packages, male and female university psychology professors preferred 2:1 to hire “Brian” over “Karen” as an assistant professor. When evaluating a more experienced record, at the point of promotion to tenure, reservations were expressed four times more often about Karen than about Brian. This unconscious bias has a repeated negative effect on Karen’s career (Steinpreis, Anders & Ritzke 1999, Sex Roles, 41, 509).

In this talk, Dr. Schmelz will introduce the concept of unconscious bias, review the studies that uncovered it, and give recommendations on how to address it. The process of eliminating unconscious bias begins with awareness, then moves to policy and practice, and ends with accountability. If you want to know more about unconscious bias, or think you couldn’t possibly be biased, try taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test: . (Instructions: scroll down. Click “I wish to proceed.” Select “Gender – Science IAT.” Instruction will pop up. Click to begin.)

Dr. Joan Schmelz is a solar physicist who received her Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Penn State University in 1987. She then joined the operations team for the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. She is now a professor at University of Memphis and a regular visitor to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Her research investigates coronal heating and coronal loops as well as the properties and dynamics of the solar atmosphere. She currently serves as a program officer in the National Science Foundation's Division of Astronomical Sciences. Dr. Schmelz is also the chair of the American Astronomical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. In addition to writing science papers for the Astrophysical Journal, she also writes regular posts for the Women in Astronomy blogspot on topics such as unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and the gender gap.