“The Fact That the Author Was Male Instead of Female Provided for an Objective Opinion”: Implicit Bias in the Classroom

“The Fact That the Author Was Male Instead of Female Provided for an Objective Opinion”: Implicit Bias in the Classroom

Julia Ferrara Waity, Jennifer Vanderminden, Kristin Robeson
DOI: 10.4018/IJITLHE.2020070103
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This paper presents an audit-style experiential learning activity intended to gauge students' perceptions of objectivity based on author gender, encourage students to apply the concept of bias to their own learning, and participate in a research study. In this activity, students were unknowingly randomly assigned the same reading on the gender wage gap with either a “male” or “female” author. Although the differences were not statistically significant, student numerical ratings of objectivity were higher when they believed the author was male. The discussion and reflection assignments demonstrated that this exercise provided students with a unique opportunity to evaluate their own biases, engage in discussion about bias, and apply course materials. Written rationale for ratings supported this perception that male authors were more objective. This activity is useful for students in thinking about and discussing the impact of implicit bias.
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While gender inequality has lessened over the past several decades in the United States (Fate-Dixon & Coontz, 2017; Hegewisch & DuMonthier, 2016), it persists in all aspects of social life. Gender inequality is reflected in ways that are observable and measurable (e.g., wages, legislation) and reflected in other more difficult-to-measure and observe ways (e.g., attitudes, biases, stereotypes). This paper focuses on an activity intended to generate thought and conversation on the difficult-to-measure and often unconscious ways in which gender inequality exists and is reproduced. Gender bias is a form of discrimination, which can be unintentional, unconscious, and even justified/internalized as fair (Auspurg, Hinz, & Sauer, 2017). Gender bias has consequences related to employment, pay, health, and housing, and many other areas; and has the potential to reinforce existing inequalities. This unconscious discrimination is sometimes referred to as implicit bias.

Gender bias is a heavily researched area, especially related to the workplace. Rice and Barth (2017) examined traditional gender role stereotypes in hiring decisions, with applicants more likely to be hired for traditionally female or male occupations. Sipe, Johnson, and Fisher (2009) considered perceptions of gender discrimination in the workforce among college students and found that students anticipated they would enter a workplace free of gender discrimination with gender discrimination not being a major concern. Gender bias is important to study in university populations in part because students anticipate equality upon entry into the labor market.

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