Unconscious bias leads to loss of potential – gender diversity leads to better science

I had the joy and privilege to participate in the Second LERU Gender Conference, 14 – 15 June 2018 in Zurich Switzerland (link) with the kind support of Finnish Cultural Foundation (Suomen Kulttuurirahasto).

The special theme of the conference was implicit bias, or unconscious bias, in Academia. Dr. Emma Terämä presented the same theme at the annual meeting of the Helsinki Association of Women Researchers, more info here. Recently, LERU (League of European Research Universities) has published an interesting report: ”Implicit bias in academia: A challenge to the meritocratic principle and to women’s careers – And what to do about it”, see the report.

In general, unconscious biases are stereotypes about groups of people that others form without conscious awareness. Unconscious bias in assessing excellence is one of the major problems affecting women in science. Then, the gender discrimination takes place in subconscious level. It is an accumulative disadvantage playing a strong role in the recruitment, working conditions, career advancement, and research funding situations of women in Academia. Unfortunately, women are not any better towards other women, especially if they themselves have been successful with their careers.

Changes in the culture have proven to be hard and slow. This is visible e.g. in the “gender scissors”, see below. The career position is related to money, power and status – and the situation have remained practically the same for the last 20 years. The competence, ambition and priorities of women researchers keep on being questioned although hundreds of studies and metastudies have found that in science there are no systematic gender differences in anything. The sad story in Academia is that researchers tend to regard themselves objective, although the unconscious bias is especially strong when people are not cautious about it.

Implicit bias affects especially young women in the beginning of their careers. The post-doc stage is very important for staying in the Academia. For example, the strong – but questionable – requirement for international mobility at post-doc stage is probably the major contribution for the leaky pipeline, clearly visible in the “gender scissors”. Namely, family constraints affect especially young women. Furthermore, the experiences of sexual harassment, affecting mostly young females, may play a significant role, too.

Luckily, there are methods to change unconscious bias to conscious awareness. First, general consciousness about the existence and character of unconscious bias must be raised. This can be done via training. The role of construal and committed leadership is important, too. Other effective methods to fight unconscious bias include positive role models, mentorship programs, women’s networks, bias-free language, and structural changes in research institutes.

In this conference, some good practices and advice were discussed: Do not publicly look down or undermine other women! Do not listen or distribute rumors or “hear-says”, especially in evaluations! Give recommendations emphasizing professional skills and excellency over character and temperament! And last but not least: Although important, it is not enough just to establish women’s networks / equality officers / antibias training / whatever written rules and formal policies – and imagine that the issue is solved. Gender equality is a process. Little things matter. Be courageous!

Greetings from the UH Minna Canth for equality event 19.3.2018: Discussion about sexual harassment at Finnish universities

The recent discussion on sexual harassment and the #metoo campaign have raised increased awareness of harassment and its manifestations. However, there is little information about harassment in Academia. Thus, the Helsinki Association for Women Researchers (https://blogs.helsinki.fi/tutkijanaiset/ ) decided to conduct an inquiry about sexual harassment at Finnish universities.

By March 15th, a total of 437 people, of which 79% women and 18% men, answered the inquiry. The answers came mostly from the University of Helsinki but also from Aalto University, the University of Art and from other universities in Finland. The respondents were both staff and students.

Although all the universities have zero tolerance policies, about half of the women and one-third of the men answering the inquiry had been victims of sexual harassment. In the Kumpula Faculty of Science, the numbers are 40% for women and 20% for men (totally 70 people: 70% women and 30% men). In addition, many of those who had not experienced harassment themselves had witnessed cases of harassment. The experiences included measuring bodies in sexual manner, telling suggestive jokes, sending sexually-oriented photos, proposing sex, promising grades or academic progress against sex, illicit touching, kissing by force, and even rape.

Only 12 percent of the female victims and 1 person among the male victims reported the harassment along official channels. Some more discussed the events with their colleagues, friends or families. But most of the victims did not share their experiences with anyone. The darkest experiences of all where those where the victims did report their experiences to their superiors – but nothing was done. More information about the numbers gathered in the inquiry is found here: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/tutkijanaiset/files/2018/03/tilastojastatistics.pdf .

Young women were particularly vulnerable. The offenders were often their supervisors or people who were in the position of power over them. Many of the victims, shocked by their experiences, were not sure if they were harassed or not.  And even if they recognized the harassment, they often did not want to report the cases since they were afraid for their career or their reputation. And even if they were willing to react, they did not necessary know what to do or whom to contact.  And even if they reacted, their reports were all too often ignored.  Men also described cases of harassment, the most typical cases being unwanted touching and unwanted suggestions for sex.

Two themes recurred in the replies: shame and guilt. The victims often blamed themselves and wondered what they had done wrong. In addition, humiliation, insecurity and the feeling of lack of control in one’s own life were common reactions. Experiences of not being trusted or taken seriously increased the feelings of shame and guilt. The responses revealed that the experiences of harassment could have traumatic impact on people’s lives for years.

The recent open and active discussion about sexual harassment in various forms of media has had a positive effect: several contributors, in discussing their experience, indicated that nowadays they would have reacted differently.  Many of the respondents agree that Academia can fight sexual harassment by discussing it openly and by inventing methods to immediately identify and react to harassment. Low threshold reporting channels are also found to be very important in the survey. In general, continuous and active information dissemination and prevention of misconduct are seen to be the key to erasing sexual harassment from universities.

To conclude, a couple of words of advice: Every one of us has the right to feel safe and respected in our place of work or study. So, act when you even suspect sexual harassment. Tell the malefactor to stop. If you dare not, or if the person does not stop, or if the case is serious: report to your official supervisor or your supervisor’s supervisor. They have the legal responsibility to react to the cases of harassment. There are also specific harassment contact persons both at universities and student unions.


Minna Canth for Equality -event will be held on 19th March at 13.15-16.00 at the University of Helsinki, Main Building, Runeberg-hall. The organizers are the Helsinki Association of Women Researchers and the Equality Committee of the University of Helsinki. Programme includes for example an address from Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä and the results of Sexual harassment in universities Inquiry. Welcome!

Registration: https://elomake.helsinki.fi/lomakkeet/86869/lomake.html

More information on Flamma: https://flamma.helsinki.fi/portal/home/sisalto?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=content_view&_nfls=true&placeId=HY274403&contentId=HY371782

Invitation : “Empowering Women in Business Leadership” seminar on the 8th of March 2018 at Eurooppasali Helsinki

The French Institute in Finland is happy to invite you to the seminar “Empowering Women in Business Leadership” organized on the United Nations’ International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2018, in the presence of Mr Olli Rehn, Member of the Board in the Bank of Finland and former Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs.

The seminar will focus on women in leadership positions, and how inequality between men and women influences attitudes and assumptions regarding women’s and men’s career paths and advancement opportunities. The aim is also to inspire women and young women to believe in their equal opportunities in education and in work life and to encourage them to make brave choices and decisions.

Our group of distinguished speakers includes Ms. Rebecca Piekkari, professor, Aalto University School of Business; Mr. Jukka Maarianvaara, Ombudsman for Equality; Ms. Marjo Liukkonen-Lazaro, Director of Corporate Coverage, BNP Paribas Corporate and Institutional Banking; Ms. Christina Dahlblom, Managing Director, Miltton Sparks and many more.

The conference will be held in English at the Eurooppasali in central Helsinki (Malminkatu 16).

08h30 Doors open
09h00-09h10 Welcome
09h10-09h30 Opening speech
09h30-10h30 1st panel discussion
10h30-11h00 Coffee break
11h00-12h00 2nd panel discussion

Please register by writing to institut@france.fi.

For further information please visit the website.

We hope to see you all join us to celebrate Women’s Day!

Kumpula Women – what we did in 2017

We are an informal network of women scientists, researchers, students and staff working at Kumpula Campus. Through our activities, we aim to give visibility to women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), share our perspectives and help networking. We welcome to our community both women and men, both junior and senior.

In 2017, our mailing list (currently with 70 members and heartily welcoming new ones) has proved to be the most important channel of information. Through the mailing list and via our website, we share information about interesting events, research, thoughts, policies, and whatever we think might interest us. We recently overhauled the look of our webpages, including a new logo. In addition, we established a Facebook group, “Kumpula Women in Science”.

We continued our monthly lunches at Dynamicum the first Monday of each month. Typically, a dozen ladies, sometimes also gentlemen, join in to enjoy the lunch. Although the discussions are cheerful and the atmosphere is spontaneous, the topics are often serious, including career opportunities in the shadow of “gender scissors”, challenges in combining work and family, and sexual harassment at work.

On March 8th 2017, together with Kumpula communication officers, we organized a popular science seminar “Deep within the Earth and Skies so High – KumpulaNOW talks on International Womens’ Day”, an event celebrating the first 100 years of Finnish women in science. Speakers included Vice-dean Esko Ukkonen, specialist in Finnish-women-in-science Eva Isaksson, space scientists Emilia Kilpua and earth scientist Emilia Koivisto, as well as director Marjukka Virkki from ABB.

At the end of the year, we had our traditional potluck Christmas coffee. Professor of cosmology and active conversationalist in society Kari Enqvist introduced a male perspective on women-in-science. He brought to our discussion the interesting viewpoint that due to reserve and courtesy, male professors might treat their female colleagues and students more formally than they treat the male ones. Thus, since professors in science are still mostly men, women scientists might feel that they are not so warmly welcomed and firmly included in the scientific community as their male colleagues – which in turn might affect their career choices.

We have established several new contacts outside Kumpula campus. We met with Women of Biotechnology from Viikki Campus and started to plan common activities. In addition, we supported a science-and-art project by the Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen collective,  which is working in the fields of music, theatre, sculpture and time-based arts.

During this New Year, please keep on sharing your thoughts, ideas and news through our network! Together we can make our campus an excellent place to work and study for everyone, both women and men.