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…