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Moss-Racusin helps White House scientists understand STEM gender bias

August 8, 2014

Moss-Racusin helps White House scientists understand STEM gender bias

Aug. 8, 2014

Corinne Moss-Racusin by Eric Jenks
Corinne Moss-Racusin (Photo by Eric Jenks)
The topic—gender bias among science academics—is complex, but the invitation—to share research with top U.S. policy makers—was irresistible. That is why Corinne Moss-Racusin, an assistant professor of psychology who has been studying the subject since her graduate student days, eagerly spent her early summer preparing to speak before a high-level audience.

“It was an exciting opportunity to discuss the policy implications of this research,” said Moss-Racusin, who was the primary speaker at a July 15 meeting of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Joining her were John Dovidio and Eva Pietri of Yale University, where Moss-Racusin was a postdoctoral associate for two years before joining the Skidmore faculty in 2013.

Another Yale connection, Jo Handelsman (“my postdoctoral mentor,” said Moss-Racusin), is the associate director of the science division at the White House OSTP. Her familiarity with Moss-Racusin’s research led to the invitation.

“Broadening participation in the STEM fields is an important White House OSTP policy initiative,” explained Moss-Racusin. “They are interested in how to recruit the best talent. They wanted to know how to remove obstacles to allow women and people of color to more fully participate in the STEM fields.”

Two recent grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have supported Moss-Racusin’s research in this area. She has been studying how to reduce science faculty members’ explicit and implicit gender biases and to learn how bias can undermine the careers of female scientists. Her research probes the effect of bias on meritocracy, diversity, and the pursuit of knowledge throughout academic science.  Her work involves educating science faculty about the existence and impact of gender bias, with a goal of reducing it.

Moss-Racusin was the lead author of a paper published in Science magazine earlier this year that recommended specific, rigorous interventions with demonstrated positive outcomes. She and her fellow scholars urged that such interventions be included among other mandates for research projects supported by federal funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

“We’ve tested interventions with a broad population of adults representative of the U.S. population as well as STEM faculty, over a period of six months. Results suggest that these interventions have the potential to inject much-needed diversity and bring positive change in the STEM fields, opening doors to those who have faced impediments. Hopefully, this research can help  warm up the climate a bit,” she said.

In her White House presentation, Moss-Racusin reported “an abundance of new data and information” from her study, and explained how theoretically derived interventions can further the dual goals of raising awareness and reducing bias.

She provided an update on her findings, striking a balance involving data, theory, and practice, and said she is looking forward to seeing how the interventions that she has developed and tested might be enacted through policy.

“It was gratifying to have the opportunity to obtain feedback from a different type of group—policymakers—to see how some of the practical steps that they mentioned would affect the changes that I come at from a theoretical perspective,” said Moss-Racusin. “It is a major initiative to take evidence from research and use it to implement policy changes.”

The feedback from OSTP participants was “invigorating,” she reported. “These are very smart people focused on the practical steps that result from theory. It was exciting to have a conversation focused on outcomes.”

With a year remaining on her grant, Moss-Racusin is moving into a new phase of testing her interventions to determine how best to implement them. “Having the Washington conversation was helpful in determining the next steps,” she said.

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