Social psychologist Prof. Juliane Degner is an expert on stereotypes and prejudices. Photograph: DESY/Marta Mayer

German-English event organized by CUI together with DESY-GB and PIER examined stereotypes and biases from different perspectives.

Stereotypes are a huge obstacle for developing an equal society. Back in the 1970s already, the persons in charge of the Boston Symphony Orchestra wondered, why there were almost only men in the orchestra – although women could play just as well as men. Since applicants have to play behind a curtain so that the conductor can’t see whether it is a man or a woman who is performing, a lot more women moved into the orchestra.

The orchestra was one of many examples Juliane Degner, who is a professor at Universität Hamburg, used to proof how much our actions are shaped by gender stereotypes – without us even realizing it. The professor of social psychology was invited as an expert to speak at a special event on stereotypes and prejudices organized by CUI, DESY-GB, and PIER. The crucial question: do stereotypes and prejudices play a role both professionally and socially?

"We are surrounded by stereotypes"

Our brain constantly stores social information, including information about groups of people. Degner: “We are surrounded by stereotypes.”  To proof this, the scientist engaged her auditorium in various smaller experiments and it soon became clear how much everybody is formed. Suppressing stereotypes doesn’t work, Degner stresses, as the thought comes back even stronger. On the contrary, it is helpful to express ones stereotypes once in a while. In addition, she pleads for taking responsibility away from individuals and instead use blind application processes.

“We realize that diverse working groups are more efficient than others,” Prof. Helmut Dosch said. The chairman of the DESY Board of Directors greeted the auditorium via video conference and stressed how important it is in the search for talents to recruit people independently of skin color, nationality, and gender. Fixed roles, he added, are a problem.

Prof. Heinrich Graener, Dean of the MIN faculty at Universität Hamburg, included another perspective in his greeting: it makes him angry when events on how to balance family and work issues are mainly attended by women. At the same time he conceded how much he himself fits into the typical perception of a scientist.

Dr. Stevie Meriel Schmiedel then focused on misogynistic stereotypes in advertising. Schmiedel is managing director of Pinkstinks, a protest and educational organization against sexism and homophobia. Its goal is to draw attention to fixed gender roles in the media and in advertising, and to show that it is possible to become more diverse.

Text: CUI, Ingeborg Adler