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Preventing Unintentional Discrimination

Oct 08, 2013

A recent public radio program on “Inspiring Girls and Women to Code” addressed the disheartening reality that while women were 38% of the computer workforce in the 1980’s, that percentage has been nearly cut in half today.  (Forum with Michael Krasny, September 9, 2013 )

The program’s guests focused on strategies and programs designed to engage girls and women in the world of science, technology, engineering and math – but also cited institutional barriers to female participation.  One caller listed successful strategies for increasing women speakers at conferences, including simply making the call for proposals process anonymous.

This is the same strategy famously used to raise the percentage of women orchestra musicians from about 10% in the 1970’s to 35% in the 1990’s.  Much of this gain was attributed to “blind auditions,” where a screen prevents judges from seeing the musician, so that their decision will be based solely on hearing the music.

Is it still necessary to employ such strategies?  Yes, according to Shelley Correll, at Stanford.  She cites studies showing that hiring committees still let bias get in the way of impartial decision-making.   For example, a group of raters evaluating candidates for a faculty position were provided resumes that were identical except that half showed female names and half showed male names.  The result?  79% deemed the male worthy of hire and 49% deemed the female worthy of hire.

Prof. Correll lists organizational solutions, including:

  1. Educating people about how stereotypes work;
  2. Establishing clear hiring and promotion criteria before looking at candidates;
  3. Ensuring that the criteria are relevant and non-discriminatory;
  4. Holding decision-makers accountable by requiring them to explain their decisions;
  5. Transparently measuring and reporting who is being hired and promoted; and
  6. Publicly vouching for the competence of leaders from underrepresented groups.

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