Unconscious bias input from IOP’s Jessica Rowson is due to air on Radio 4

27 April 2017

BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind programme is set to include a contribution on unconscious bias from the IOP’s improving gender balance manager pre-19, Jessica Rowson, on 16 May.

Unconscious bias input from IOP’s Jessica Rowson is due to air on Radio 4
Wilde Fry

The programme, which is scheduled to go out at 9pm, is due to draw on talks given by Rowson and others at the Biased Science event at the Royal Institution (RI) on 3 March. Claudia Hammond, presenter of All in the Mind, chaired the evening at the RI, which included a panel discussion and Q&A session.

Also speaking at the event and likely to heard in the Radio 4 programme were astrophysicist Dr Emma Chapman, who is a Royal Astronomical Society Fellow at Imperial College London and winner of the IOP’s Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year Award in 2014; Professor Louise Archer, professor of sociology of education at King’s College London; and business psychologist and author Binna Kandola.

In her talk, Rowson explained how unconscious bias can affect the way people behave towards others, which can unintentionally cause harm.

“We, as a society, have very strong biases around what’s appropriate for girls and boys,” she said. “Boys should like cars, be loud, rough and tumble, dress in blue. Girls should be quiet, hardworking, aspire to be princesses and not like getting dirty. These stereotypes are inherent in our society and are constantly reinforced by mass media and advertising.”

Unhelpful and misleading gender stereotypes can limit students’ aspirations and lead to different expectations of male and female students and therefore different experiences for them in the classroom, she said.

Explaining why the IOP is interested in unconscious bias, she pointed to figures showing that girls make up only about a fifth of A-level physics students and to evidence that the schools with the poorest gender balance in a number of subjects were those most likely to have a poor gender balance in physics.

She also highlighted the work that the IOP is doing in improving gender balance, and engaged the audience in exercises such as identifying words that people associate with boys and with girls.

Around 200 people took part in the event at the RI, including an entire GCSE class of girls with their teacher, who contributed some excellent questions, Rowson said. She added: “It was really good to hear from some of the female students. They agreed that they and other girls didn’t answer so many questions in class, but had never really reflected on why before.”