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The Effect of an Intervention to Break the Gender Bias Habit for Faculty at One Institution: A Cluster Randomized, Controlled Trial

Carnes, Molly MD, MS; Devine, Patricia G. PhD; Baier Manwell, Linda MS; Byars-Winston, Angela PhD; Fine, Eve PhD; Ford, Cecilia E. PhD; Forscher, Patrick; Isaac, Carol PT, PhD; Kaatz, Anna PhD, MPH; Magua, Wairimu PhD; Palta, Mari PhD; Sheridan, Jennifer PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000552
Research Reports

Purpose: Despite sincere commitment to egalitarian, meritocratic principles, subtle gender bias persists, constraining women’s opportunities for academic advancement. The authors implemented a pair-matched, single-blind, cluster randomized, controlled study of a gender-bias-habit-changing intervention at a large public university.

Method: Participants were faculty in 92 departments or divisions at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Between September 2010 and March 2012, experimental departments were offered a gender-bias-habit-changing intervention as a 2.5-hour workshop. Surveys measured gender bias awareness; motivation, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations to reduce bias; and gender equity action. A timed word categorization task measured implicit gender/leadership bias. Faculty completed a work–life survey before and after all experimental departments received the intervention. Control departments were offered workshops after data were collected.

Results: Linear mixed-effects models showed significantly greater changes post intervention for faculty in experimental versus control departments on several outcome measures, including self-efficacy to engage in gender-equity-promoting behaviors (P = .013). When ≥ 25% of a department’s faculty attended the workshop (26 of 46 departments), significant increases in self-reported action to promote gender equity occurred at three months (P = .007). Post intervention, faculty in experimental departments expressed greater perceptions of fit (P = .024), valuing of their research (P = .019), and comfort in raising personal and professional conflicts (P = .025).

Conclusions: An intervention that facilitates intentional behavioral change can help faculty break the gender bias habit and change department climate in ways that should support the career advancement of women in academic medicine, science, and engineering.

Dr. Carnes is director, Center for Women’s Health Research, professor, Departments of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Industrial & Systems Engineering, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, and part-time physician, William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Devine is professor and chair, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Ms. Baier Manwell is a research administrator, Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, and national training coordinator for women’s health services, Veterans Health Administration Central Office, Washington, DC.

Dr. Byars-Winston is associate professor, Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Fine is a researcher, Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Ford is professor, Departments of English and Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Mr. Forscher is a graduate student, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Isaac is assistant professor, Mercer University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Kaatz is assistant scientist, Center for Women’s Health Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Magua is a postdoctoral fellow, Center for Women’s Health Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Palta is professor, Departments of Biostatistics and Population Health Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Sheridan is executive and research director, Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

Funding/Support: This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01 GM088477, DP4 GM096822, and R25 GM083252.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: The protocol for this research (SE-2009-0313) was approved by the University of Wisconsin–Madison social and behavioral sciences institutional review board.

Previous presentations: Preliminary results were presented at the Causal Factors and Interventions Workshop, Bethesda, Maryland, on November 8, 2012; and to the Advisory Council of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, on January 24, 2013.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Carnes, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 700 Regent St., Suite 301, Madison, WI 53715; telephone: (608) 263-9770; fax: (608) 265-6423; e-mail: mlcarnes@wisc.edu.

© 2015 by the Association of American Medical Colleges