Gender Quotas Best Way to Combat Implicit Bias

May 30, 2014

Every one of us holds implicit gender biases developed throughout our lives that are impossible to escape. Rather than suppressing such bias, we must become more aware of it in order to overcome the inequality that it can cause.

This was the argument put forward by Curt Rice of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies at a May 22 lecture hosted by SPP in cooperation with CEU’s Department of Gender Studies entitled Confessions of a Male Sexist: How Implicit Bias Holds Women Back. Rice used both personal stories and the results of a number of studies to paint a picture of the causes and effects of gender bias, and how society might best tackle it. 

Taken aback by the lack of women in a panel of top scientists at a press conference in Norway, Rice became aware of how stereotypes were being developed for young people in relation to their view of the type of person who can be a successful academic. Context such as this is what creates an implicit bias in the minds of young people that can affect them throughout their lives. 

Through relating the findings of studies on gender bias in hiring practices, Rice noted that the solution was not through simply assigning more women to hiring committees, as implicit bias is something that exists across the genders.

"Implicit bias leads people to approach hiring, the assignment of salaries, and promotion with a cultural context that is very hard to counter," Rice explained. The solution, he argued, is not to suppress this sexist bias - as this is very difficult, if not impossible - but to become more aware of it. "We are simply not up to the task of objectivity. Fairness follows from becoming aware of implicit bias and then intervening in processes in ways that can affect that." 

While gender quotas in hiring are a topic which provoke strong feelings in many, Rice contends that research shows that the use of quotas increases the number of qualified female candidates applying for positions, and in groups which have a gender quota imposed upon them, the standard of the group overall will be increased as less qualified men are replaced by more qualified women. 

"Quotas," Rice stated, "which are admittedly an extreme measure, are the kind of thing that we have to be talking about because we are all sexist and we need to intervene."

Curt Rice is currently a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, where he is writing a book on implicit bias and how it affects the career trajectories of men and women differently, especially in academia. He has been involved in many European projects on issues related to gender equality in research institutions and has written extensively on this topic, including pieces in The Guardian, Inside Higher Ed, The Telegraph, Aftenposten, Morgenbladet and many others. Rice has also just been named by the Norwegian Minister for Education and Research to be the new head of the Norwegian Committee on Gender Balance in Research. For a sample of Rice's perspectives and an overview of his activities, see

You can listen to the lecture in full below.


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