Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

So you’re biased… October 31, 2008

Which you almost certainly are, if you’re a human being. And you’re hiring. And there’s really good evidence that bias can affect hiring. So what’s a well-intentioned person to do? We’ll be having a series of posts on strategies. One place to start might be by asking what an expert on implicit bias does to overcome her own biases. It’s interesting:

Mahzarin Banaji, one of the discoverers of implicit bias, knows that her explicitly egalitarian beliefs are not enough to overcome her biases so she takes conscious efforts:

ALMOST FROM THE MOMENT BANAJI TOOK THAT FIRST RACE TEST, she says, she has applied her research to her own life. Her office at Harvard is testimony. At eye level on a bookshelf are postcards of famous women and African Americans: George Washington Carver, Emma Goldman, Miles Davis, Marie Curie, Frederick Douglass and Langston Hughes. During one interview, she wore a brooch on her jacket depicting Africa. What might seem like political correctness to some is an evidence-based intervention to combat her own biases, Banaji says.

People’s minds do not function with the detachment of machines, she says. For example, when she was recently asked to help select a psychologist for an award, Banaji says, she and two other panelists drew up a list of potential winners. But then they realized that their implicit biases might have eliminated many worthy candidates. So they came up with a new approach. They alphabetically went down a list of all the psychologists who were in the pool and evaluated each in turn.

“Mind bugs operate without us being conscious of them,” Banaji says. “They are not special things that happen in our heart because we are evil.”

But assumptions lead to attitudes, and attitudes lead to choices with moral and political consequences. So, whether she is in a classroom or a grocery store, Banaji says, she forces herself to engage with people she might otherwise have avoided.

Just before Halloween, Banaji says, she was in a Crate & Barrel store when she spied a young woman in a Goth outfit. The woman had spiky hair that stuck out in all directions. Her body was pierced with studs. Her skull was tattooed. Banaji’s instant reaction was distaste. But then she remembered her resolution. She turned to make eye contact with the woman and opened a conversation.

Some strategies, then, to come out of this…

In general– Be aware of your own biases, and make conscious efforts to overcome them while you’re thinking about who to hire:

(1) Give an extra chance to people that evidence suggests you may be setting aside too quickly. Look more closely.

(2) Think about how your procedure for looking at applications could be improved, perhaps by reflecting on how Banaji decided to consider candidates for the award. (I’m not sure what concrete suggestion to make here– any thoughts?)

(3) It sounds cheesy, but there seems to be good evidence that it works (see quoted bit here): surround yourself with images of those you are likely to be biased against.

For more reading on the topic, go here. We’ll have more strategic suggestions shortly…

 

Hiring? Read This First October 25, 2008

The US job market season is almost upon us. Soon we’ll be hearing about how women and minorities have an advantage because everyone is so eager to hire them. And yet we’ll also be hearing complaints about the continuing underrepresentation of women and minorities. By the end of it all, people of genuine good will on hiring committees will be shaking their heads with puzzlement wondering why, despite their good intentions and efforts, they have not managed to hire more women or minorities. Research on implicit bias can help us to make sense of this situation. What I found most fascinating in the research described below was the strong desire of HR managers to hire more minorities, and the total inefficacy of this desire.

In perhaps the most dramatic real-world correlate of the bias tests, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago recently sent out 5,000 résumés to 1,250 employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. The résumés were culled from Internet Web sites and mailed out with one crucial change: Some applicants were given stereotypically white-sounding names such as Greg; others were given black-sounding names such as Tyrone.

Interviews beforehand with human resources managers at many companies in Boston and Chicago had led the economists to believe that black applicants would be more likely to get interview calls: Employers said they were hungry for qualified minorities and were aggressively seeking diversity. Every employer got four résumés: an average white applicant, an average black applicant, a highly skilled white applicant and a highly skilled black applicant.

The economists measured only one outcome: Which résumés triggered callbacks?

To the economists’ surprise, the résumés with white-sounding names triggered 50 percent more callbacks than résumés with black-sounding names. Furthermore, the researchers found that the high-quality black résumés drew no more calls than the average black résumés. Highly skilled candidates with white names got more calls than average white candidates, but lower-skilled candidates with white names got many more callbacks than even highly skilled black applicants.

From an excellent article on implicit bias here. The 2004 study referred to can be found here.

Philosophers often insist, like the HR managers in this study, that women and minorities have an advantage. Until someone comes up with a good evidence that we’re special in some way that frees us from implicit bias, I think the presumption should be the opposite. And that we need to be very aware of this. (For some more of our recent blogging on this topic, see here and here.)

The next question, of course, is what to do. Stay tuned.

 

 
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