On Mitigating Bias in a Job Search July 11, 2014
I write a lot about implicit bias, and about how we should all be taking steps to mitigate it. I’m also Head of Department. So when I was placed in the position of hiring for two permanent posts, I decided to take the opportunity to put in place what seemed to me, based on what I know about implicit bias, to be the best practises. It went remarkably well, so I thought I’d report on what we did, and how and why we did it. And also on some of the difficulties, because it wasn’t QUITE as smooth as it could have been.
1. What we had candidates send: Anonymised CV and writing sample, with identifying information on a detachable cover sheet. In keeping with widespread UK practise, we only asked for names of referees at this stage, not references.
a. Detachable cover sheet only actually makes sense if these things are going to be printed out, and if they’re not being submitted electronically. I’m not sure why I asked for it, but I wouldn’t do it again. For electronic documents, removing it is a tedious bit of editing. Just ask for anonymised CV and writing sample.
b. Candidates weren’t always sure what was meant by ‘anonymised’ or ‘identifying information’. Some worried they should leave off their publications, or place of PhD, or employment. Much better to put in brief clarification of what to leave in. [What we actually wanted left off was just name and email.]
c. The e-recruitment system sticks candidates names into the file names of every file downloaded by those on the committee, adding *another* bit of anonymisation to do. Unless you have a system which doesn’t do this, you’ll need a bit of administrative help retitling all of these. (And we really should advocate for systems that don’t do this!)
It IS vital to have a bit of administrative help– someone who can check to make sure that everything actually is anonymised, who can also write assign numbers to the candidates and keep a list of name-number pairings.
2. How we long-listed: We long-listed on the basis of CV alone, to get down to 15-30 candidates. Our focus was primarily on meeting area needs and publication record.
3. After long-listing, we read anonymised writing samples. We also sent away for references. This decision was the subject of debate. I favoured waiting until we’d shortlisted, because of well-documented biases in reference-writing, and also because of national differences (e.g. US references are MUCH more glowing than UK ones). However, some wanted references to be used in shortlisting. Our compromise was to have references sent to a special email account, to which committee members would only be given access a couple of days before the shortlisting meeting. At that point, they were also given access to the name-number pairings.
4. How we shortlisted: Shortlisting was based on full information: CV, writing sample and references. Fascinatingly, though, even those who had advocated the use of references in shortlisting found them to be not of much interest after close examination of CV and writing sample. All felt that use of references had in the past been a merely apparently useful short-cut, which probably served to short-circuit proper consideration of more significant information. We also found that in many cases we had failed to recognise the written work of those we actually knew, so the anonymity had worked remarkably well.
You might wonder why we didn’t anonymise references. One reason is that it’s a lot of work– need to eliminate every occurrence of name or gendered pronoun. Another is that if a reference is anonymised you can’t try to take into account the tendency for referees to e.g. describe women as ‘hard-working’ and men as ‘brilliant’.
5. How we hired: Our process is a long one by UK standards and a short one by US standards. The main events are job talk (1.5 hours, including discussion) and interview, though there are also a couple of meals. The most important bias-fighting measure I took at this stage was in the discussion of each candidate post-interview. I did not allow overall gestalt evaluations or comparative evaluations until the very end. Instead, we agreed a list of topics we would discuss about each candidate in turn. I listed these on a whiteboard to make sure they got covered in every case. We carefully distinguished such things as written work, job talk, and discussion period so as not to give any of these undue weight. (There’s a good case to be made that written work is a better indication of research ability than job talk under immensely stressful conditions, including in many cases stereotype threat. Yet nonetheless it’s all too easy to focus more on job talk.) Only after each candidate was discussed in detail did we turn to comparative judgements. This lead to much richer and more useful discussion than I’d experienced before in such circumstances (and I’ve lost count of the number of hiring committees I’ve been on!). In both cases, we had very strong fields, and therefore extremely difficult decisions to make. But we all felt that this process helped enormously in making these decisions.
Here is the webpage for instructions as to donation of SWIP records and organizational material to the new archive of the Society of Women in Philosophy. From Ann Garry:
We want to direct your attention to a new philosophy archive that is now open to receive donations. *The Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) Records.* The Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) Records Collection of the Feminist Theory Archive at Brown University welcomes material related to the history of this important grass-roots philosophy organization. This archive will make available to scholars in every discipline, to future generations of philosophy students, and to the general public records of the activities and concerns of all the divisions of SWIP. SWIP has functioned for more than four decades as a “laboratory” for philosophical engagements that have transformed and diversified the projects and processes of the discipline of philosophy. This work has also made significant contributions to the development of feminist thinking in other fields and thus to intellectual history and public policy more generally.
The Steering Committee wants to thank Christina Rawls and Samantha Noll for their work that enabled the project to get off the ground. Let me also add that Joan Callahan and Sandra Harding have done much of the heavy lifting on it this year!
Ann Garry for the Steering Committee
Joan Callahan Ann Garry Sandra Harding Alison Jaggar
Thanks to Shen-yi Liao’s comment on this post.
The Positive Consequences of Negative Stereotypes
Race, Sexual Orientation, and the Job Application Process
David S. Pedulla1
1Department of Sociology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
David S. Pedulla, Department of Sociology, Princeton University, 107 Wallace Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. Email: email@example.com
How do marginalized social categories, such as being black and gay, combine with one another in the production of discrimination? While much extant research assumes that combining marginalized social categories results in a “double disadvantage,” I argue that in the case of race and sexual orientation the opposite may be true. This article posits that stereotypes about gay men as effeminate and weak will counteract common negative stereotypes held by whites that black men are threatening and criminal. Thus, I argue that being gay will have negative consequences for white men in the job application process, but that being gay will actually have positive consequences for black men in this realm. This hypothesis is tested using data from a survey experiment in which respondents were asked to evaluate resumes for a job opening where the race and sexual orientation of the applicants were experimentally manipulated. The findings contribute to important theoretical debates about stereotypes, discrimination, and intersecting social identities.
“How did you manage to get all those people to invade my state?”
Thanks to DK
Program Change to Alison Jaggar conference July 9, 2014
Philosophers are very prone to discussions of “who’s smart”, and also of “who’s stupid”. I vividly remember discussions in the lounge when I was a grad student of who was stupid (discussions amongst both staff and students) and my terror of making it onto the stupid list. In recent years, lots of good worries have been raised about such discussions.
In some disciplines success may be seen as depending on sustained effort and dedication, whereas in others it may be seen as requiring a “gift” or brilliance that cannot be taught. Because women are stereotyped as being less likely than men to possess innate intellectual talent, they may find the academic fields that emphasize brilliance as the key to success to be unwelcoming.
I have been collecting anecdotal data on seeming smart. One thing I’ve noticed is what sort of person tends spontaneously to be described, in my presence, as “seeming smart”. A very striking pattern emerges: In every case I have noted the smart-seeming person has been a young white male. Now my sample size is small and philosophy is about 75% white male anyway, so I want to be cautious in this inference. Women and minorities must sometimes “seem smart”. And older people maybe have already proven or failed to prove their brilliance so that remarks about their apparent intelligence aren’t as natural. (Maybe also it is less our place to evaluate them.) But still I would guess that there is something real behind that pattern, to wit:
Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate.
And now Carolyn Dicey Jennings on the negative side of things– criticising people as not intelligent, rather than simply criticising their arguments.
Eric Schliesser, in a related vein, on boy wonders:
I define a ‘boy-wonder’ as follows: a male — aged 20-28 — who is quick on his feet, precocious, often with gifts in formal areas of philosophic, and annointed as ‘the next big thing’ by Some Important Philosopher(s) (SIPS) at a top department.* Words like ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ are often used in this context. (Often SIPS and their boy-wonders are dismissive of other people’s contributions.) Philosophy is by no means the only discipline that has ‘anointed’ boy-wonders (economics does, too), but we like them a lot. By this I mean that boy-wonders do not only show up in the inflationary context of letters of recommendation, but they also impact the sexist mores in philosophy.
I offer seven considerations to rid ourselves from the whole set of practices that involve boy-wonders.
First, it’s very hard to judge future philosophical performance. While it may be true that some future fantastic philosophers are recognized at an early age (fill in your favorite example), there are also lots of false positives.
Second, once somebody is annointed as a boy-wonder in some privileged circle, they often benefit from this for a long time in their career. Their work is systematically over-rated (fill in your favorite example), over-cited, and it happily carries them into exalted status (where they can annoint, etc.) They benefit from a positive feedback loop with material and psychological support that will help some of the boy wonders produce enough to retroactively justify the anointing within the (magic) circle of sympathy (see this analysis by Eric Schwitzgebel).
Third, undoubtedly, some boy-wonders crack under pressure, and suffer from not being able to live up to to expectation. I suspect that all anointed boy-wonders are harmed in some such way, but they may not care when they really make it in the profession.
Fourth, boy-wonders can get away with a lot. And, sadly, that means a lot of sexist stuff, too. Boy-wonders get a lot of second-chances. (I am *not* claiming that boy-wonders are more likely to be harassers.)
Fifth, the proxies that are often used to ‘track’ boy-wonder potential are, frankly, themselves sexist; they tend to rely on tacit bias, heuristics, and social norms many of which are known to favor men.
Sixth, because the intellectual gifts and virtues that tend to be associated with boy-wonder-hood tend to be associated with only a limited sub-set of philosophical areas/interests, they also skew everybody’s sense of what matters in philosophy.
Seventh, the phenomenon reinforces some of the worst features of the system of commodification of philosophy (and other disciplines)–the sociology around boy-wonders, facilitates Deans and Chairs to ‘sell’ their latest hire as a potential ‘superstar.’
I suspect that questioning the intelligence of any philosopher in a public forum could trigger stereotype threat for marginalized groups and such questioning adds nothing of value to public discourse.
I think we should all try to just stop talking this way. It’s not easy, and we’ll surely slip up. But we should try.
Podcast Resource for Philosophy & History of Race July 8, 2014
If anyone is interested in discussions on race, Blackness, and social hierarchies in the American context that are less technical and widely accessible, this podcast series looks like a good resource.
Historical Blackness on TWIB with Historian Blair Kelley (iTunes Store link)
You can listen to the episode “What is Race” here. (It opens with examples from Charles Mills’ Blackness Visible). This episode sounded like it could be a good classroom resource (undergrad or grad) as a conversation starter or an introduction to how philosophy, history, and political theory intersect on the topic.