Hiring? Read This First

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.

8 thoughts on “Hiring? Read This First

  1. I’m reminded in considering this that we’re all affected by implicit biases. Women need to use the lessons about implicit bias to monitor our own evaluations of ourselves and others.

  2. i’m wondering if it would have been better or worse for the fictional black applicants if there was another study with video resumes.
    just an aside, i took two tests from the other post and was shown to have a moderate preference for light skin over dark and also a moderate preference for african american over white faces. the first test was drawings the other pictures. also, if i remember correctly the second had more white men than women. ( an untested gender preference?)
    jj- any advice on how to monitor our evaluations of ourselves? how to disregard negative feedback without losing possible constructive criticism? i know, big question

  3. Hi dk – I hope you saw my comment on your comments on the fem. majority post; I was concerned that we were losing insights of yours, which I thought I might vaguely discern.

    I think it is well to monitor one’s reactions to one’s self as one would reactions to others. If you’ve got the biases, then you may be:
    – inclined to value men’s work over your own.
    – ready to assume the guys’ understand the technical details better.
    – prepared to let them go on about their ideas in public, while censoring your own.

    Of course, if most people have the same biases, you are getting yours reinforced. One thing you can do, if you are an academic, is to get as much work as possible in places where gender is hinder from reviewers, including conferences. There are now -in my experience – some supportive women at conferences, thank goodness!

    Another is avoiding the biased voices as much as you can without leaving your profession. A group of friends with whom you can discuss the biases is helpful. It makes it clear the real problem is public and independent of you.

    I’m sure there’s tons more stuff. We do need to try to collect the ideas.

  4. jj,

    thanks. i was until recently a job seeker. the women in my family and the women i know as friends have taken a very gendered approach to career building and i was hoping to avoid that, or see another way out, but was unsuccessful.
    i think one problem is that we really aren’t sure of all we have to offer but also don’t have the network.

  5. The usual test for whether a group is being favored or disfavored is to check the qualifications of the accepted candidates. At many liberal arts colleges, administrations now practice affirmative action for men, for fear of applications collapsing if their sex ratios become too lopsided towards females. Unsurprisingly, mean qualifications of admitted male students (SATs, high school GPA) have decline relative to those of females.

    For philosophy hiring, have third parties rate papers and dissertations with identifying information removed, and compare the stats. Likewise for graduate school attended, GRE scores (if you can get them, they’re quite correlated with general IQ, and they do predict success in philosophy grad school), and transcripts.

    Orchestras improved female hiring rates by using screens to ensure that biased hiring officials could only hear and not see auditioning females. Job talks could be conducted using instant messaging for questions, in similar fashion.

    Unfortunately, these things can only go so far when the number of candidates is very limited. Until you can equalize career preferences across the sexes, eliminate the structural disadvantages associated with childbirth and disproportionate family burdens on women, and eliminate group differences in mean and standard deviation of intelligence, there won’t be perfect proportionality in the candidate pool. This will get much more extreme at the high end, where positions tend to go to those with everything going for them.


    Click to access Intelligence.pdf

  6. All great points, AU. I wonder if we could get some grant money to do a study of how philosophical papers and cvs get evaluated with and without identifying material…. Hmm….

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