Wednesday, June 26, 2013

CSWA Townhall - Recap

The CSWA hosted a Town Hall meeting at the Indy AAS meeting on Tuesday, June 6, from 12:45 to 1:45 in Wabash Ballroom 3.  Around 40 people, including three previous CSWA chairs, were in attendance to listen to current chair, Joan Schmelz, present information about unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and impostor syndrome.  The presentation was designed to elicit audience discussion on topics included in the 2010 AAUW report "Why So Few?", some of which is summarized here.

Several participants expressed concern that the community needs to continue to be aware of how unconscious bias pervades almost every professional situation.  Unconscious bias is the result of expectations or stereotypes that influence our judgements of others.  In addition to having more female applicants in any prize or job applicant pool (1, 2, 3), ways to avoid this include
  • using validating language, especially for women,  when introducing speakers to show they have the credentials and are experts in the topic.  A study showed that these kinds of introductions resulted in the audience having a more positive reaction to the female speaker compared to when just a simple introduction was given (4). A way to ensure this for your introduction is to plant your credentials with your host!; and
  • writing reference letters that have agentive words that speak to female applicants' professional qualities (such as "confident" or "ambitious") rather than communal words that describe her female qualities (such as "caring" or "agreeable".) They make a difference! (See also the summary of the study).

Impostor syndrome - the feeling that we are not as competent as our peers - was also a topic of discussion and younger members of our community wondered how to cope with it.  One answer? Portray a sense of confidence and listen to your head - you've done this before. While there are ways to manage impostor syndrome and keep it under control, it won't go away.

Joan showed the image below at the end of her talk, and I think it nicely summarizes this new era of "discrimination". While we make progress at eliminating overt discrimination and harassment, we encounter more and more subtle forms of it.  But we are peeling those away, too. It will just take effort and time.

                                              Image by Joan Schmelz.

(1) Valian (1998) Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge: MIT Press, p. 280.
(2) Heilman (1980) Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 26: 386-395.
(3) Sackett et al. (1991), Journal of Applied Psychology, 76(2): 263-267.
(4) Butler and Geiss (1990), "Nonverbal affect responses to male and female leaders: Implications for leadership evaluations", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 48-59.

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