Male, pale and stale university professors are to be given “reverse mentors” to teach them about unconscious bias, under a new Government funded scheme.
Under the project, white men in senior academic posts will be assigned a junior female colleague from an ethnic minority as a mentor.
Prof John Rowe, who is overseeing the project at Birmingham University, said he hoped the scheme will allow eminent professors to confront their own biases and leave them “feeling quite uncomfortable”.
“What is understood about unconscious bias is that we have all got it, but the more you learn about it and become conscious of it, the more you can act,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“While it is well known and obvious that women and minority groups suffer setbacks to their career progression no one really understands why.
“It’s not as if there is any overt prejudice – it is something to do with the way the system is or the way it has evolved and we needed to find out why.”
The mentor scheme is one element of a broader project aimed at challenging bias, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC).
Prof Rowe, who is director of research at Birmingham University’s College of Engineering and Physical Science, said he hoped to interrogate the “underlying causes” that lead to the underrepresentation of female and ethnic minority academics at the top of academia.
“We are mindful that previous attempts at addressing such imbalances have not been successful, so we are investigating new ways of understanding how to support progression of our female and ethnic minority colleagues,” he said.
“Questions such as ‘Is there a bias when the gender of the academic is known?’, ‘Is it the result of the group dynamic of a panel of assessors?’ and ‘Are women encouraged to work in particular research areas, perhaps those outside of STEM subjects?’ will also be addressed.”
Staff from Birmingham will work with researchers from Aberystwyth University and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
The EPSRC, a government agency, is funding eleven “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion” projects as part of an £5.5 million anti-discrimination drive in engineering and physical sciences.
It has previously been claimed that Oxford porters should be given “unconscious bias” training, amid claims that they assume black students are trespassing when they enter College grounds.
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