Does gender bias influence awards given by societies?

AGU is a participant in a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)–funded project called Advancing Ways of Awarding Recognition in Disciplinary Societies (AWARDS), which seeks to examine whether gender bias affects selection of recipients of society awards. AGU is interested in learning why there is a higher proportion of female recipients of service and education awards over the past 2 decades. Combined with a lower rate of receipt of research awards, these results suggest that implicit (subconscious) bias in favor of male candidates still influences awardee selection.

Six other professional societies (American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Mathematical Association of America, Society for Neuroscience, and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) are participating in the project. Volunteers from each participant society attended an Association for Women in Science (AWIS) sponsored workshop in May 2010 to examine data and review literature on best practices for fair selection of society awardees. A draft proposal for implementing these practices will be brought before the AGU Council and the Honors and Recognition Committee at their upcoming meetings.

While the data are interesting, their implications are manifold. Not only can this study help AGU leadership ensure that awards are given in a manner that does not subconsciously favor one gender over the other, but also results can guide AGU members who nominate candidates for awards. Further, AGU members involved with the leadership of their institutions or of other societies may find results useful for averting bias in their own award selections. Collecting the data is the first step in determining whether bias exists.