On Saturday afternoon, listening to Radio 4 PM programme, my attention was caught on the reporting about the Chelsea Flower Show, where this year out of its 15 top spots for the gardens designs displays only 2 are represented by women. According to some this is a recurring pattern that takes place every year at the Chelsea Flower Show. In response to this criticism the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) put out a statement saying that their judging process is non-sexist and that women have won ‘Gold’ medals. Surely such a criticism cannot be a new revelation to the RHS. I guess I would question how does the RHS know that its selection process is non-sexist? The RHS is indeed a prestigious institution. However, despite this, it may be failing to address aspects of unintended bias taking place in their decision making process. It is not a coincidence that the majority of the judging panel for the top 15 spots are men and it may be possible that affinity bias is occurring? After all like attracts like and we are more comfortable with those around us who share our experiences. Whilst the judging panel may think that they are operating a non-sexist process how do they know that their decision making processes are not leading to unintended bias in regards to gender?
It could also be argued that at the Chelsea Flower Show there is possibly confirmation bias through prejudice taking place where men are perceived to have a higher potential to get ‘gold’ than women. This practice may not be overt but subtle and rational. What does the evidence support?
Then there is systemic bias where different standards are applied when comparing men and women. The RHS could take a leaf out of the exercise in the 1970s and 1980’s where virtually all musicians in major symphony orchestras were male until blind auditions were implemented which led to increasing the number of talented female musicians being hired. The RHS could well do with looking at the processes of how they select, make decisions and even the role sponsors play in maintaining a gender bias at the Chelsea Flower Show.
In 2015 many corporation in the UK are changing their practices of how they recruit talented women as board members, in senior roles and create inclusive environments that are diverse. Perhaps the Chelsea Flower Show could take some different actions if it wants to show up differently in years to come and be more aligned to the modern world. I personally would very much look forward to this.