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We want to thank Boynton et al. for writing a letter to the editor (LTE) in response to our recent editorial on gender disparities in the sport and exercise medicine (SEM) community . As the title of our editorial indicates [We need to talk about manels: the problem of implicit gender bias in sport and exercise medicine], we were primarily motivated to stimulate a conversation about the issues we raised, and an LTE contributes to this conversation .
We were also motivated by a desire to assert that i) the SEM community does indeed manifest many examples of gender disparity; ii) social media has provided a space where this issue is being debated, notably (but not exclusively) under the hashtag #manels; iii) implicit bias is a significant contributor to these disparities, and iv) there exist well-established resources where interested readers might explore their own implicit biases .
It is in these goals, then, that we fundamentally disagree with most of the assertions the LTE authors have made about our work and the conclusions they draw.
We noted with interest that the authors of the LTE did not take direct issue with our assertion that there exist substantial gender imbalances within the field of SEM. Rather, they took issue with our assertion that implicit gender bias underpins these imbalances.
We posit in our editorial that implicit bias is a factor contributing to the gender disparities we see in SEM. Discussing implicit bias in t...
We posit in our editorial that implicit bias is a factor contributing to the gender disparities we see in SEM. Discussing implicit bias in the context of gender inequity in SEM does not mitigate the role of other factors. We do not suggest that implicit bias is the sole driver of gender inequity, but that it is one that warrants attention.
Boynton et al. note, in the references that they cite arguing against implicit bias, that there may be phenomena such as individual choice that may result in such disparities. This may be true. In addition, we would add that at least one other phenomenon we did not mention is explicit bias. Each of the authors on this editorial can note multiple examples where these explicit biases have played out. The issue of ‘manels’ as a manifestation of gender disparities in SEM is merely the tip of the iceberg. Some of the authors of our editorial have written about other gender issues in different media . Society at large, and the SEM community in particular, is still too disturbingly sexist to escape the conclusion that frank, explicit bias is a major driver of the disparities that concern us .
In regards to the issue of implicit bias, the body of literature supporting this concept is deep and underpins several of the resources we mention in our editorial. The LTE authors too easily dismiss this work as ‘ideological.’ We counter that, like any scientific theory, implicit bias is a ‘work in progress,’ and that noting a few references arguing against that theory does not tear down the entire body of evidence.
Gender disparities and contributory biases exist at many levels of our field. This is a problem, which could be seen as big or small depending on the observer. It is, nevertheless, a problem. We assert that it must be addressed.
We do agree, at least in part, with our dissenting colleagues, when challenging those of us interested in these issues to seek a ‘higher degree of evidence.’ While there is no lack of evidence for gender disparity in the SEM community, we applaud deeper investigations into these issues and a higher quality of evidence. Furthermore, we advocate for more research into the phenomena that may underpin these disparities.
For those parties interested in gender issues in sport and SEM, we would encourage them to consider looking more deeply into the problems we describe in our editorial and this response. We would like at the very least to see more documentation of gender (mis)representation among keynote speakers at SEM conferences; within academic divisions and departments; within teams (e.g. head team physicians among elite teams), etc. Moreover, analyses of the decision-making processes that lead to these disparities must also be included in future investigations.
Being of service to ourselves and our SEM community means meeting people where they stand. This is a more effective endeavor when we can be transparent about where we are starting from. To that end, we would encourage readers to consider these courses of action while we all continue this conversation:
i) consider taking the implicit bias test we reference 
ii) speak up when seeing significant gender disparities at conferences and other fora
iii) Men: mentor the female SEM trainees with which you work, and help them achieve higher levels in their field if they are motivated. And listen thoughtfully to what your female colleagues are saying about these issues
iv) Women: yes, ‘lean in,’ as the saying goes; but also continue to identify systemic biases and try to challenge them
Submitted by Sheree Bekker and James MacDonald, on behalf of all authors of the original editorial:
Sheree Bekker, Osman H Ahmed, Ummukulthoum Bakare, Tracy A Blake, Alison M Brooks, Todd E Davenport, Luciana De Michelis Mendonça, Lauren V Fortington, Michael Himawan, Joanne L Kemp, Karen Litzy, Roland F Loh, James MacDonald, Carly D McKay, Andrea B Mosler, Margo Mountjoy, Ann Pederson, Melanie I Stefan, Emma Stokes, Amy J Vassallo, Jackie L Whittaker
Response to: We need to talk about manels: the problem of implicit gender bias in sport and exercise medicine
A recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine asserted that the presence of implicit bias in Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) is negatively affecting women in the field.1 We are concerned with the editorial’s lack of scientific approach, poor standard of evidence, and exclusion of important facts.
The editorial argued implicit bias results in pronounced real-world effects in the form of gendered differences in SEM and society as a whole. However, no substantial scientific evidence of the magnitude of implicit bias’s real-world consequences on gender differences was presented. Instead, circular reasoning was utilized as implicit bias was assumed to manifest the gendered differences present in the SEM field and society.
Implicit bias has been criticised within its field of psychology. A recent meta-analysis found little evidence that measurements of implicit bias are associated with any real-world manifestations of explicit bias or behaviour.2 Indeed, Patrick Forscher, one of the study’s authors implied in an interview that implicit bias’ use in policy making could be wasteful and even harmful.3
Research suggests gender has an influence on personality, career preferences, and priorities.4 Indeed, where more freedom is allowed, the greater the disparity in traditionally gendered sectors.5 Extrapolation of thes...
Research suggests gender has an influence on personality, career preferences, and priorities.4 Indeed, where more freedom is allowed, the greater the disparity in traditionally gendered sectors.5 Extrapolation of these basic biological and social facts indicate the potential for gendered differences in roles (e.g. serving on a panel) to be a result of situations arising from free choice. These are very important points to consider when discussing discrepancies between genders, yet were not mentioned in the editorial.
The argument above is of course not for absolute biological determinism, nor that sexism does not exist. Recognizing the fact that there are differences between women and men does not mean equity between genders cannot exist. However, valid evidence should take precedence over ideological narratives. Any statements on this topic should be made with caution as to avoid promoting unnecessary interventions.
The authors of the editorial are free to critically examine the evidence presented opposing their conclusions. However, the editorial demonstrated a low standard of evidence. For this conversation to move forward a higher standard of evidence should be sought and adhered to.
In conclusion, the authors of the editorial failed to meet the necessary burden of proof to claim that implicit bias is a primary cause for the complex phenomenon of gender discrepancies in SEM or society. As such, the likelihood is high that the interventions cited within the editorial are unwarranted and unhelpful.
1. Bekker, S. et al. We need to talk about manels: the problem of implicit gender bias in sport and exercise medicine. British Journal of Sports Medicine bjsports–2018–099084–4 (2018). doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099084
2. Forscher, P. S. et al. A meta-analysis of change in implicit bias. PsyArXiv 1–68 (2017). doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/DV8TU
3. Goldhill, O. The world is relying on a flawed psychological test to fight racism. Quartz (2017). Available at: https://qz.com/1144504/the-world-is-relying-on-a-flawed-psychological-te.... (Accessed: 9 April 2018)
4. Su, R., Rounds, J. & Armstrong, P. I. Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological Bulletin 135, 859–884 (2009).
5. Stoet, G. & Geary, D. C. The gender-equality paradox in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Psychol Sci 095679761774171–20 (2018). doi:10.1177/0956797617741719