Innovative Ideas on Gender and Diversity Justice

Inaugural lecture to be held by highly regarded professor of sociology Kathrin Zippel on December 1, 2022

In her inaugural lecture at Freie Universität Berlin, sociologist Professor Kathrin Zippel will address the question of why the concept of implicit bias has played such a major role in diversity measures at universities in the United States. "Implicit bias has become one of the most popular yet controversial concepts related to diversity measures in the US," says Zippel. Her research is based in part on one of the most common justifications for inequality in liberal societies, which is that people acquire success, status, power, or rewards because of the inherent quality of their work, capabilities, and professional qualifications - evaluated according to fair and impartial standards - rather than their wealth or social position, a concept otherwise known as meritocracy. "This ideal is prevalent in academia, where it is believed that those who succeed do so because they are capable and work hard enough," explains Zippel. "However, implicit bias may impede us from making fair judgments." This is because people can act based on prejudice and stereotypes about social groups without intending to do so, thus problematizing our ability to measure the quality of work and qualifications fairly. On December 1, 2022, Zippel will speak about the aspects of implicit bias that generate tension in terms of diversity measures and why the concept is so popular. The talk will be held in English at Freie Universität Berlin’s Henry Ford Building and will also be livestreamed. The event forms part of the lecture series "Diversity and Excellence - A Tense Relationship’!" hosted by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA).

"What’s really interesting about this subject is that implicit bias theory doesn’t necessarily call the whole process of evaluating and measuring excellence into question; it merely draws attention to the fact that these processes have to be made fairer in practice," says Zippel. This would include standardizing selection criteria, making them transparent, and applying them in a consistent manner. "This opens the door to negotiating new criteria for how we evaluate excellence - for example, by explicitly asking to specify contributions to diversity or gender in research." This has already been happening at American universities, while the European Research Council and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have already put measures like this into practice. "Applicants have increasingly been asked to make statements on diversity, inclusion, and equality at American universities," she adds. This has been just one step in making excellence more inclusive.

In July 2022, Kathrin Zippel took on an Einstein Strategic Professorship through the Einstein Foundation Berlin as a professor of sociology with a focus on gender studies at Freie Universität Berlin. From 2001 to 2022, Zippel was professor of sociology at Northeastern University in Boston.

With her Einstein Strategic Professorship Zippel aims to enrich gender research in Berlin with empirical intersectional gender research from an internationally comparative, institutional perspective and thus strengthen its international appeal. She will also carry out collaborative research within the Cluster of Excellence "Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)" in a project that examines variations of diversity. This project will include studying "diversity scripts" and if diversity is seen as conflicting with the ideal of meritocracy. "Cross-national comparisons between Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Turkey, and the United States can provide us with insights into which categories fall under diversity and why promoting gender and diversity justice seems to present such a challenge," she says. Zippel’s work aims to answer the question of why gender equity has been slow, at times stalling, and highly uneven across key institutions such as education, work, science, and politics - as well as where sustainable, crisis-resistant progress has been made. Her research at Freie Universität focuses on equity and diversity measures as well as gender aspects of global change processes in science and education.

With its Einstein Strategic Professorships the Einstein Foundation Berlin recruits leading researchers from abroad who are of strategic importance to developing Berlin’s research environment. The Einstein Strategic Professorships help Berlin’s universities and publicly funded non-university research institutions to implement pioneering research strategies, build their research profiles, and explore and advance new research areas, as well as nurture their strengths and appeal to outstanding talents.

The "Diversity and Excellence - A Tense Relationship’!" lecture series is being held by the Berlin University Alliance (BUA). Although diversity policy has become one of the core elements of organizational development in German higher education in recent years, there are still many tensions when it comes to implementing diversity measures that are based on a non-inclusive view of excellence. In many cases, discrimination is not addressed by diversity measures, but rather concealed by them, so that ultimately exclusionary structures in higher education remain unchanged. Thelecture series is dedicated to investigating this tension and how the university as an institution can be diversified. It is organized by the Diversity and Gender Equality Network (DiGENet) of the Cross-Cutting-Themes Diversity and Gender Equality of the Berlin University Alliance (BUA). The lectures will critically examine the tension between diversity and excellence from different (inter-) disciplinary perspectives.