Tech Transfer eNews Blog

AUTM EDI toolkit suggests de-identification for grants, disclosures, job applicants


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: January 25th, 2023

A detailed article on the AUTM EDI toolkit and strategies for implementing an anonymous process for invention disclosures, grants, and job applications appears in the January issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

It’s common knowledge at this point that women and minority populations are vastly under-represented when it comes to the STEM professions, inventive activity, and even in tech transfer itself. There’s plenty of data to show that these groups participate in tech fields and are included in patents at far lower rates than their relative numbers.

To help TTOs and others involved in commercialization activity address this gap, AUTM recently released an Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Toolkit. The EDI Toolkit provides guidance in understanding implicit and structural bias, how to measure impact on EDI with research and data, and how to start or expand your diversity efforts. The goal is to help build an innovation ecosystem that works for everyone.

One of the toolkit’s most interesting recommendations is a best practice that anonymizes employment and grant applications as well as invention disclosures (IDs) as a means of reducing or eliminating bias based on gender, race, and other factors.

The number one motivator in adding this section was to remove unconscious bias, according to Lisa Mueller, one of the Toolkit’s authors and incoming chair for AUTM’s EDI Committee. Mueller, a patent attorney with Casimir Jones, S.C., says studies have shown that diverse groups tend to accomplish more economically and that this move to eliminate bias works to meet that end.

“Removing bias initially helps to level the playing field,” she says. “In particular, it gives women that extra layer of confidence that they may often need to move forward with an [invention disclosure].”

Anonymizing disclosures and grant or employment applications also shows a university’s serious commitment to diversity and inclusion. It demonstrates that they’re focused on skills and qualifications and may even tend to attract better employees.

Laura Schoppe, president of Fuentek LLC, a leading technology transfer consulting firm, says that implicit bias is undoubtedly present and that the anonymizing process will help to remove that. “We’re all human,” she says. “And this process is certainly valid in the invention disclosure and hiring process.”

Schoppe believes that the TTO community is being more cognizant of unconscious bias and has made a concerted effort to work towards a more inclusive ecosystem. She advises TTOs that are looking to make a change to focus on the back end. “The invention disclosure applications should remain the same, but the initial review process should change,” she says.

For example, she suggests that a third-party or student/intern handle the initial intake process to ensure there are no holes in the application — a triage stage of sorts. Once all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, the evaluation/analysis stage follows and the applicant’s name should be left out.

Almesha Campbell, AUTM Chair-Elect and assistant vice president for research and economic development at Jackson State University, who also serves on the AUTM EDI Committee, advises organizations to redact identifying information from applications to ensure a blind review process.

“Any application process that minimizes the personal information requested and provides a template format for resumes would be ideal,” she says. “Additionally, the steps in the application and interview process can be minimized to keep the process as anonymous as possible.”

Mueller reports that some universities are using codes instead of names, and others are using a third party take all the initial personal data and cut and paste it into a separate file before sharing the applications.

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Creating an Environment for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in University Research and Tech Transfer is a distance learning program that explores strategies for creating and growing an EDI program that addresses inequities in the university research enterprise. Click here for more details.

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