Labor & Work-Life Issues

New Game Plays on Women's Experiences of Gender Bias in Academe

October 28, 2009

As a female professor, are you called rude and abrasive while your male colleagues who make similar statements are simply labeled assertive? Has your department head discouraged you from taking an assignment, saying that because you have children you might not be able to handle it?

If things like that have happened to you, yell: "Bingo!"

The Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law is unveiling a new online game on Thursday called Gender Bias Bingo. The game is intended for women, although men who have overheard biased statements or have faced bias because they are fathers can also play. An online bingo card names six overall categories of gender bias, like assumptions that women cannot be both good mothers and good workers. Professors who submit examples online of at least three of the types of gender bias in the workplace can declare bingo and win a T-shirt.

"We're attempting to teach people how to recognize gender bias when it happens to them," says Joan C. Williams, a professor of law and director of the center. "We also want to get a buzz going so other people—department chairs—will secretly visit the site to learn what's going on."

Ms. Williams, who has written widely about how motherhood can stymie women's academic careers, designed the game with part of a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. She plans to unveil it at a meeting of female professors who have received NSF grants that were awarded to help change university policies and culture so that institutions hire and hang onto more female scientists and engineers.

Ms. Williams had read nearly 200 scientific studies of gender bias in academic journals and wanted a way to make the findings accessible to female professors. So she came up with four general patterns of bias, solicited examples of them from focus groups of female professors, and made it all available on a Web site, along with the bingo game.

The Web site comes with "strategies for surviving gender bias" and includes videotaped scenarios illustrating the four patterns of bias. It also offers university administrators an economic argument for stopping gender bias, which can lead women to leave universities. "It does not make economic sense, particularly in these economic conditions, to keep recruiting women and then keep driving them out," says Ms. Williams, who points out that a start-up package for a research scientist can cost as much as $1-million. "There had never been built, as far as I could tell, a clear explanation of why it's cheaper to keep her."