Understanding the B Word: How one faculty member is helping her colleagues re-think bias
If asked, chances are you could quickly list the biases you hold based on your values and how you view the world. But without serious introspection, there’s a good chance you’ll miss a few—and when it comes to equity and diversity in the workplace, the Faculty of Medicine’s Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis will tell you that the ones you miss are the ones that matter most.
Since spring 2018, Tsilfidis has led more than 30 unconscious bias training workshops across the University. The purpose of these workshops is to raise awareness of the biases that we hold, which are influenced by a number of factors including our gender, culture, religion, ethnic background, and political leanings.
A long-time member and current leader of the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Gender Issues (EDG), she first offered this training to the hiring committee responsible for choosing the Faculty’s new dean.
The training has since been used in the hiring processes for four university deans, as well as for the University’s vice president of external relations, the University librarian and vice-provost (knowledge systems), and the provost and vice-president of academic affairs.
“What we’re trying to do with this training is to help people realize that our unconscious biases are deeply ingrained. We often make assumptions that unfairly target certain individuals without realizing that we are doing it,” says Tsilfidis. “The hope is that by helping people understand that we all have biases, they will begin to consider how this comes into play when evaluating candidates—and this will result in an equitable search process and a more diverse candidate pool.”
While she sees the good it is doing at the University, for Tsilfidis, this work is somewhat personal. As a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and mother to two daughters studying in male-dominated fields (engineering and computer science), gender bias in the learning environment and workplace is something she has seen often.
Tsilfidis is hopeful this kind of training can make a difference and is quick to point out just how receptive her colleagues have been.
“It really resonates with people,” says Tsilfidis. “We aren’t pointing fingers at anyone, we’re just asking people to do some introspection that might help them see others more clearly.
“It’s clear from University leadership that this is a priority and this is important. I’m excited to see if and how, this kind of training impacts hiring outcomes.”
For more information on Unconscious Bias training at the University of Ottawa, email edgissues@uOttawa.ca.