How to Remove Gender Bias in Your Life Science Hiring Strategy

How to Remove Gender Bias in Your Life Science Hiring Strategy

The field of life science has a better rate of female recruitment and promotion than the rest of the STEM industries, but there still remains significant work to be done. Women typically have to work harder to prove themselves and still face bias in the workplace, particularly when it comes to work life balance.

Recruiting more women is an important part of diversity in the workplace, but how can companies overcome a gender bias to be more inclusive? Here’s a closer look at some of the strategies your company might want to employ when tackling recruitment.

Anonymise CVs

Any decent company will have policies in place which promote equality, diversity and inclusiveness. However, no matter how positively this is enforced, the subject of unconscious bias still needs to be considered. This isn’t an all-male province; gender bias can affect female recruiters as well as men.

For any employer keen to overcome gender bias when recruiting new life science staff, one strategy to consider is anonymising CVs. By removing the name and any identifying gender data on a CV, recruiters can assess applicants purely based on their suitability for the role.

It’s a suggestion that can easily be put into practice, as seen in the Hubble Space Telescope application process. The Time Allocation Committee took the step of anonymising applications and scrutinising the data later, to see if the results were different. Despite only 23% of applications being from women, the number of anonymised applications from women stood at 30%. Prior to applications being anonymised, the figure stood at 18%. This demonstrates that by removing gender identity, it’s possible for women to enjoy much greater success.

One interesting side-note to the Hubble experiment is that the greatest shift came from male assessors. Although gender bias can exist in both men and women, research suggests that it’s men who are more strongly affected by gender.

It should be possible for any company to anonymise CVs before beginning the recruitment process. By doing this, it also protects women from accusations of preferential treatment or not getting the job on merit.

Accepting Bias as Fact

It can be difficult to accept a gender bias still exists, especially if you work hard to create an environment which is diverse and accepting. However, gender bias in fields traditionally dominated by men can take many different forms, and accepting that it exists is an important step.

Research has shown that committees who refuted the suggestion of a gender bias were far less likely to recruit and/or promote women in science. In contrast, those who acknowledged that an unconscious bias was still a factor were more likely to have an inclusive approach where women stood a better chance of success.

It’s too flippant to suggest that someone should simply “believe” in a gender bias. To be able to identify and accept these barriers as the first step in overcoming them, training in gender bias and stereotypes is essential.

Use Standardised Criteria

Using committees for recruitment is one way to guard against gender bias, as studies suggest they are more resistant. This approach can be enhanced even further by the use of standardised criteria and clear descriptions.

If you’re an experienced recruiter in a technical role, it can be tempting to use your own expertise and knowledge to make decisions about who to hire. However, this allows the influence of gender bias on an unconscious level. Using standardised criteria ensures that the recruitment process sticks to the selection data and doesn’t get waylaid.

Providing job applicants with clear descriptions and information about exactly what you’re looking for is also important. Examples of this could include technical expertise, qualifications, individual achievement or key responsibilities. This will allow candidates to deliver what you’re looking for, giving them the best chance of success when measured against your listed criteria.

Good examples of this type of process include knowledge tests and structured interviews, with a predefined scoring mechanism.

Be Willing to Challenge

There has been real appetite to challenge gender bias within the world of STEM, and some success has been enjoyed within fields such as life science. However, there is more work to do with women continuing to face challenges in areas such as recruitment, promotion and the pay gap. Therefore, being willing to innovate and restructure your recruitment process, including some of the strategies above, means you could be moving closer to eliminating gender bias for good.

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