A $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health is to fund the develop a video game that aims to break assumptions that keep women and minorities from the sciences.
The game will be developed by researchers and students in conjunction with Molly Carnes, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Women's Health Research with the aim of combating implicit, subconscious bias against women and minorities.
"After years of effort, many fields in science, math, engineering and medicine still have trouble attracting and retaining women and minorities, and all find women underrepresented in leadership," said Carnes.
"For 25 years, the research agencies have said, if the U.S. is going to maintain its competitive edge in a global economy that is increasingly knowledge-based, we must invest in the domestic workforce in science, math, engineering and medicine," she continued. "There has been some improvement, but we not taking full advantage of our domestic workforce."
Carnes believes that the reason for this lies in our subconscious. "There are multiple studies showing that it's these implicit biases that predict our behavior more than our explicit beliefs."
The game will aim to put players in situations that could reveal such bias. For instance a faculty member might be asked by the game to hire a top scientist who requires wheelchair accessibility. Or a resume might have a work experience gap because of child-rearing, with the game asking players to consider their knee-jerk response to such situations.
Carnes argues that bias is like a bad habit in that people want to change but find it a struggle. "If it was easy to get people to change a habit nobody would be smoking" she said. "So we know that giving people information is not enough and we know that the way we are delivering diversity messages to faculty now is not working."
She hopes the game will "involve challenge and invoke curiosity, [and] give enough information, but not too much."
The new grant, called the National Institutes of Health Director's Pathfinder Award to Promote Diversity in the Scientific Workforce, is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and administered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.