Health Advice



Unconscious biases continue to hold back women in medicine, but research shows how to fight them and get closer to true equity and inclusion

Jennifer R. Grandis, Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, The Conversation on

Published in Health & Fitness

Trainings that fail to engage participants aren’t very effective in lessening imlicit bias. In fact, research has shown that some trainings suggest unconscious bias is an unchangeable fact of life and imply it can therefore be ignored.

Describing how bias works and how it influences individuals is an important step in addressing discrimination.

Researchers have been studying how unconscious bias works and how to mitigate it since the 1980s. These studies show that unconscious bias is a habit that can be broken over time with a clear, consistent and respectful series of evaluations, feedback and follow-ups. During this process, employees become more aware of bias in others, more likely to judge such bias as problematic and more able to mitigate bias in their own behavior. This type of intervention has been shown to produce measurable increases in the number of female faculty in science and medicine.

The question is whether the mandatory trainings and public messaging that are the staples of many DEI policies today can produce similar results to these intensive interventions.

Creating situations or a culture where people can and do share their experiences with harassment and discrimination – without risk of retaliation – can lead to increased awareness of bias in others and clear communication of the negative aspects of this bias.

One interviewee in my study talked about an exercise in which the women wrote down their experiences of discrimination and harassment and then the men read the women’s stories out loud. This woman felt that the men, by reciting the experiences of their female colleagues, finally began to understand how practices that seemed to be inclusive and fair were actively harming others.

Sharing personal experiences of harassment or discrimination with people who have biases is an understandably scary or intimidating thing to do – especially given the history of retaliation or shaming. But my recent experiences seem to suggest that the culture in medicine is shifting from one of avoidance to one of engagement.


I recently gave a talk on gender discrimination at a major cancer conference that brought together researchers from all across the U.S. I shared the results of my study as well as my personal experiences with the audience. At the end of my presentation, the crowd of men and women stood and applauded – a response I have rarely, if ever, seen in my 30 years of attending medical conferences.

This enthusiastic response may suggest that people are broadly becoming more open to and supportive of women and other underrepresented people sharing their own stories of facing discrimination. With a large body of research showing that sharing personal experiences with people who are actively listening and engaging is one of the most effective ways to combat unconscious bias, this standing ovation seemed to me a hopeful sign of things to come.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. If you found it interesting, you could subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Read more:
Fishing, strip clubs and golf: How male-focused networking in medicine blocks female colleagues from top jobs

Men don’t trust female central bankers on inflation or the economy, survey data shows

Jennifer R. Grandis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


blog comments powered by Disqus