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Panellists Highlight the Importance of Addressing Unconscious Bias at International Women’s Day Event

(From left to right): Lisa Kepinski, Founder and Director of the Inclusion Institute, Amani Al Hosani, Deputy Simulations Manager at the Nawah Energy Company, Helen Eduards, Sweden’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna and IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management Mary Alice Hayward at the panel discussion to mark International Women’s Day. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Experts discussed the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace and society at a panel discussion organized by the IAEA to mark International Women’s Day. The discussion, attended by over 150 staff and Member State representatives, centred on how we can build a more inclusive culture by addressing unconscious bias, which comes from social stereotypes, attitudes, opinions and stigma about groups of people, including women.

“It will be helpful for all of us to be made aware of the possibility that unconscious bias may unintentionally affect decision-making,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in opening the discussion. “As Director General, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that the IAEA attracts the very best talent from the global talent pool. That includes attracting the best qualified women.” 

IAEA Deputy Director General Mary Alice Hayward, who moderated the discussion, highlighted how common unconscious bias was and – because it is harder to detect – also more harmful. “Because this type of discrimination is subtle, it can be extremely difficult to identify and address,” she said. “As I learned more about this concept I realized that there are blind spots in my own thinking and that I need to become more aware of my own assumptions. We all do.”

The panellists explored what unconscious bias is, its impact, and how we can address it.

Helen Eduards, Sweden’s Ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, including the IAEA, spoke about the Swedish government’s forward thinking on gender equality and how we can fight unconscious bias by instilling the importance of gender equality in children at an early age and valuing the role of both women and men in childcare responsibilities.

“The idea in Sweden is that equality must first be achieved within education,” said Eduards. “Gender mainstreaming is part of the curriculum starting in kindergarten, and it is a slow but very necessary process. We work at many levels throughout our society and we try to attract women to higher education and technical occupations.”

Lisa Kepinski, Founder and Director of the Inclusion Institute, a consultancy focused on helping organizations implement policies to facilitate inclusion and diversity, described how we can mitigate unconscious bias and use specific techniques to foster a greater degree of inclusion within organizations.    

“We are trying to interrupt our tendency of automatic thinking so that we can become more fair and objective in our decision-making,” said Kepinski. “Thinking about mitigating bias in our one-on-one interactions and in our team interactions is crucial for progress. We have found that organizations that ‘de-bias’, including through conducting blind interviews and blind skills assessments, are much more likely to achieve their gender, diversity and inclusion goals than those which do not.”

Amani Al Hosani, Deputy Simulators Manager at the Nawah Energy Company, which will operate the new nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates, elaborated on the challenges of working as a woman in the nuclear field and her path to success.    

“It’s very important to fight for what you want and believe in your ability to achieve your goals,” said Hosani. “I was initially told that I would need to work full-time at the Barakah nuclear power plant, and I realized that this would be difficult to manage as I am also raising three children. I approached the CEO of the company, and we were able to negotiate a flexible shift policy for mothers with children.”

The event was livestreamed on the IAEA Facebook page. The recording is available here.


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