So you’re biased…

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…

Action Figure VS Nutcracker

It was perhaps galling that one of the smartest questions asked of Hillary Clinton in the past 18 months was posed after a presidential debate in which Clinton did not participate. But it was appropriate that it came from a journalist who understands as well as the New York senator that the path to gender parity is lined with potholes.

“Why do you think Sarah Palin has an action figure, and you have a nutcracker?” asked CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric on her nightly webcast — her so-called after party — following the final presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain on Oct. 15.

From Rebecca Traister’s article on the rise of Katie Couric, Campbell Brown and Rachel Maddow.

“Sarah Palin gets the spiteful Margaret Thatcher treatment”

The Daily Telegraph has a perspective on Sarah Palin different from the one that shows up here. Interestingly enough, its author graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1965 with a BA degree in philosophy. She was also a member of the Free Speech Movement, which was one of the initial student protests of the sixties. And she taught philosophy in England (for example, as a tutor for the Open University) for 20 years.

Given that background, readers may find the following comments from the article a bit surprising, though she has been an arch conservative journalist for some time:

There are few sights more bloodcurdling than the liberal pack in full cry. The viciousness of the attacks on Sarah Palin is a testimony to the degree of panic her appointment has generated in Leftist circles.

It would seem that it is only sexist to trash a woman candidate if she is a Woman Candidate, which is to say a liberal.

Like Margaret Thatcher before her, Mrs Palin is coming in for both barrels of Left-wing contempt: misogyny and snobbery. Where Lady Thatcher was dismissed as a “grocer’s daughter” by people who called themselves egalitarian, Mrs Palin is regarded as a small-town nobody by those who claim to represent “ordinary people”.



The life of small-town USA is based on the principles of those Protestant colonial settlers who founded the nation: hard work, self-improvement, personal faith and family devotion. Mrs Palin speaks to and for them in a way that patronising “liberal” elitists find infuriating.

On the other hand, New Yorker columnist Jane Mayer was on Democracy Now discussing her NYer article on SP and how SP was chosen.  It turns out that Washington insiders sometimes take cruises in Alaska.  Outsider anti-DC-elitist Sarah Palin entertained a number in the governor’s house and they loved her.  As Mayer says,

[To pick the running mate,] they’re sort of going down a checklist. They’re looking far-right politics, female, and then attractive. And one of the things that all of the Republican political pundits who came through the governor’s mansion were—it was funny to interview them. They were just smitten by her. They described her wearing high heels and saying, “Hi, I’m Sarah,” and introducing herself charmingly. And they talked, almost to a man, how gorgeous she was. They called her a “honey.” Bill Kristol called her “my heartthrob.” I mean, they sounded like guys with schoolboy crushes, practically.

O dear.  Mayer also says, “They could still be elected, so don’t count her out yet.”  Panic indeed!

Undecided Voters

From the always superb David Sedaris:

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”
Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.
I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?
To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Thanks, Mr Jender!

Fruit flies and Sexism?

Does Paris have a fruit fly problem?  Is it sexist to worry about a woman’s use of couture clothing?  How could these questions be connected?

Research on fruit flies is at the foundations of our modern understanding of genetics and congenital disorders.  But what does Sarah Palin think of research on them?  Well, have a look:

from the Huffington Post:

Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that “fruit fly research” has “little or nothing to do with the public good” is not just wrong — it’s mind-boggling.

…  anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. … Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words “fruit fly research.” Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?

What in the world does this have to do with sexism?  Well,  it has been said that concern over the $150,000 spent on Palin’s wardrobe is sexism at work.  But, arguably, we should be concerned over the elements going into the manufacturing of this image, which a too sizable part of our population in the States seems to think reveals a woman ready to be president of the US.  Scorn for science practices, folksy cuteness and couture clothing?

Finally, I’m not sure it’s dumb to forget about fruitflies from high school.  But I think it is appallng to assume one can assess the merits of funded scientific research without more inquiry than has been shown here.

Take Action: Prevent Disenfranchisement

A vastly important action, and lucky for you a simple one too:


This year, there are over 600,000 newly registered Ohio voters, but President Bush has asked Attorney General Mukasey to investigate as many as 200,000 of them. Why? Because Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has refused to use an “exact match” standard before adding these voters to the rolls.

What is this “exact match” standard? Basically, it works like this: After you fill out your voter registration card, a local or state employee has to type in your information to add you to the voter rolls; then state authorities check to see that you really exist, usually by verifying your driver’s license number or Social Security number. And as you can imagine, sometimes there are typos or other disparities when the information gets entered and matched – for example, if your last name is “De la Rosa” and it got entered as “Delarosa”, you would fail to meet the exact match standard, and your registration form would be invalid.

Secretary Brunner has refused to use this standard on the grounds that it would erroneously deprive tens or even hundreds of thousands of Ohioans of their right to vote. The Ohio GOP sued her a month ago to try and get the courts to compel her to use the “exact match” standard, but the Supreme Court ruled that they had no standing to make that case.

Now, President Bush is trying to run around the Supreme Court by getting the Department of Justice to intervene. On Friday, October 24th, Bush reportedly asked Attorney General Mukasey to investigate whether as many as 200,000 voters need to reconfirm their registrations before November 4th. This is hugely problematic, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Obviously, for 200,000 voters to reconfirm their registrations before Election Day would be a logistical nightmare for Secretary Brunner, for Ohio’s county Boards of Elections, and for the voters themselves, most of whom would have to vote provisionally.
  2. The only reason the Department of Justice has jurisdiction to intervene here is because of the Voting Rights Act, the entire purpose of which was to expand, not suppress, the right to vote. This action would be completely contrary to the spirit of that law.
  3. New registrants tend to be young people as well as people who move around a lot – a particular problem in the midst of a foreclosure crisis. Imposing an exact match standard would create a second class of citizens when it comes to voting rights – a group of people who are far more likely than most to lose that right altogether.

President Bush is doing his best to further politicize the Department of Justice and suppress the rights of Ohio’s voters, but Attorney General Mukasey doesn’t have to bend to this insidious tactic. With the election only days away, the time to act is short – please sign this petition today to tell Mukasey to say no to President Bush’s request. Ohio’s voters are counting on you.

Go here to sign the petition. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Women and Medical Research: Fact vs. Fiction

According to a recent article in Science (10/10/2008), there’s no evidence suggesting that women were excluded from clinical trials funded by NIH since 1985.  As they say:

Six years ago, A New York Times columnist confidently stated that, before Bernadine Healy became director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991, “women were usually excluded from clinical trials.” It’s a popular and tenacious view, but it’s hard to find evidence for it. In fact, the current ratio of women to men in U.S.-government-funded trials is about 2-to-1.

Such figures can mask other sorts of neglect, so someone else with a different take may be able to give a different version of the treatment  of women in medical research.  However, in the meantime, we need to face the fact that a favorite example of male influence may be more than20 years out of date.

There is another factor worth thinking about.  You can see it in this passage from the article:

It’s true that until the 1980s, women of reproductive age were often excluded from trials, ostensibly to avoid harm to fetuses. The impression of male-dominated trials was reinforced by two large men-only heart trials launched in 1972 and 1981. In 1987, NIH formally made a commitment to include more women in research and followed in 1990 with the establishment of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. In 1991, NIH started the 15-year Women’s Health Initiative, an intensive study of postmenopausal women.

These developments notwithstanding, many women argued that more attention was needed. In Congress, Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-CO) picked up the ball after one of her staffers called her attention to the two big male heart trials. “Because they were so big and expensive,” in part, they provoked “outrage,” says Adele Gilpin, a physician and lawyer at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Hunton & Williams. These pressures led to congressional passage of the 1993 NIH Revitalization Act, which further emphasized inclusion of gender considerations in research.

There’s a path to change:  women in power get a central authority to mandate change.  Not that that is easy, but it is a good example of top-down change.

CFP: Philosophical Inquiry into Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering

Philosophical Inquiry into Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering

The conference will be primarily philosophical in focus, but we also
invite interdisciplinary scholarship from fields outside of philosophy
including, but not limited to, sociology, psychology, womenʼs and gender
studies, and health-care related fields.

May 14-16, 2009
At the University of Oregon
Keynote Speakers:
Eva Kittay, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Lisa Guenther, Vanderbilt University
Invited Speaker:
Andrea OʼReilly, the Association for Research on Mothering, York University

Call for Papers:
Submit abstracts for papers or panels.
Approximately 750 words.
Due January 31 at 5pm.
Email submissions or questions to :
Include a cover sheet with name, institution, department, & contact
Document should be submitted in MS Word (.doc file).
For additional information please link to:

Where are you? A poll

How scattered are we?  Please help us find out.

Please do remember that this is just the second poll.  The list seems too long, but, even worse, items seemed to pop off somewhere.  I hope most places are represented, but do use  the “other” if you are not happy placing yourself on this list.

Also, no doubt the list conflates some political boundaries with geographical boundaries.  Apologies in advance, and do know it was wholly unintentional (even if blameworthy).



BTW, wordpress counts the number of visitors this site gets, so even though we don’t know who you are, if you don’t vote, one of us at least will know and might even feel sad!