International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge’. Find out more on Twitter by following @womensday and using #IWD2021 and #ChooseToChallenge.
To mark International Women’s Day 2021 we hear from our Senior Editor, Yvonne Buckley.
Choose to Challenge – calling out gender bias and inequality
I was asked recently to sit on a grant awards panel and I decided to take a different approach to normal. Usually I would feel flattered that someone wanted my opinion and then wrestle with whether this is something I have time for. I started to think about what I could bring to the role, how I could use it to make things better. I have seen how structural changes to grant assessment can make a huge difference to gender balance. A great example was the introduction of gender blind grant assessment by the Irish Research Council for its postgraduate and postdoctoral awards. I had written several gender blind references for candidates and wondered what difference it would actually make, but the proof was in the elimination of gender bias in awardees after this change.
Before making my decision to join the grant panel, I looked up the recent awardees and saw that it was gender imbalanced. I wrote back with my observations on gender imbalance and asked them what they were doing to address it. I made my acceptance of the role contingent on their response, unless I was assured that they recognised the problem and were working seriously to mitigate it I would not take part.
The response I got was detailed and encouraging, they had recognised the problem and were addressing it through different means. This reassured me that my presence would be more than just “pink-washing”. Too often the assumption is made that it is enough to include women on panels to solve systemic issues of gender imbalance. I am well aware of my own unconscious biases and know that unless there is structural change in how we address our biases, inclusion of women as decision makers will not be enough. I feel that I also signalled to the committee that I would be actively working from within to address the gender imbalance.
This process of engagement with the committee prior to taking up the role was refreshing and gave me the confidence to continue to challenge process in other areas. I’m happy to report that the gender balance of the most recent awardees was 50:50. I don’t take credit for this as many of the changes were initiated before I joined the panel but I am proud of challenging my own assumptions and being part of this change.
Yvonne Buckley Senior Editor for Journal of Ecology