Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is recognized as a critical issue in the workplace and in society at large. Here are some of the best articles and books on the topic, most but not all US-centric.

Newest post (2/11/2019): an article in The Lancet shows how much more likely studies led by men are to get funded than studies led by women (article is free!)

Multiple topics: Here’s an exceptionally useful summary of the state of study of unconscious bias from the Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and ethnicity.   We can overcome certain biases by identifying the object of bias with another term we like. Techniques for overcoming unconscious bias. And here’s a toolset on reducing the impact of unconscious bias, with encouraging results.

Business: Men make more than women when both are selling the same new items on EbayA woman changed the name under which she submitted her name to a publisher to a male name and got better results.  Here’s a piece on submitting a novel under a man’s name, versus under a woman’s.    Here’s a piece on bias by Airbnb hosts.

Education: Here’s a good piece about unconscious bias in school settings that links to several studies demonstrating the presences of these biases, and some proposed interventions. Here’s an annotated bibliography of recent studies on unconscious gender bias in academics, with some articles also considering racial bias  It starts early: preschool teachers’ biases and their effects on preschool suspensions. More attractive women getting better grades?! Teacher training in empathizing with students, rather than reflexively punishing them, reduced school suspensions.  Correcting for unconscious bias in admissions leads to more diverse entering class in med school. Here’s one on disparities in school discipline. Here’s a summary of unconscious bias in academic settings.  Teachers’ unconscious bias contributed to gender disparity in students’ subject choice.

Justice system: “African Americans are only 13% of the American population but a majority of innocent defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes and later exonerated.” People are less likely to brake for black pedestrians. Racial disparities in sentencing in South Carolina.  Salon published this article linking to a number of studies showing how unconscious bias operates, many showing the impact of bias in the judicial system: this one, showing what influences death sentences, is particularly scary.  Here’s a short piece on one of the authors of that study, awarded a 2014 MacArthur “genius grant.”

Politics: What disliking Hillary Clinton’s voice tells us about unconscious biasWomen don’t “look like” leaders.

Religion: Here’s a piece on how it happens in houses of worship (US data).

Science and medicine: Women scientists show women’s representation on panels lags representation in their scientific field.  Dear God: black children with APPENDICITIS are less likely to get pain meds than white childrenPapers with women as lead authors are cited lessWomen with women professors in STEM subjects do better in those classes and are more likely to engage with STEM afterwards.  This thoughtful piece discusses how to overcome unconscious bias in palliative (and other) care settings.  Correcting for unconscious bias in admissions leads to more diverse entering class in med schoolUnconscious bias in academic medicine.

Workplaces:  A good data-rich piece on the effects of unconscious bias in the workplace. When a company fails, women CEOs get blamed more than men CEOsWomen write better code, but have to hide their gender to get it accepted.  Personal stories from Silicon Valley about being on the receiving end of unconscious bias and, sometimes, conscious bias. Here’s a (scholarly) article on age stereotypes in the workplace: geeky language, good data. Blind auditions contributed strongly to orchestras hiring more gender-diverse performers.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011.  An exceptionally useful examination of the human decision-making processes.  Long but usefully divided into shorter essays.

Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. London: Routledge, 2002. Her examples of disparate evaluation of talent based on the author’s perceived gender get a different treatment, more focused on the workplace and more data-driven, in Valian’s Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman.  New York: Harper, 2011.  The best current expression I know of what feminism is, what it is for, and why we need it in response to unspoken biases. Speaks especially to younger women.  Every woman and every man should read this book (unless you are offended by profanity or obscenity, both of which Moran uses about as often as I use punctuation).

Howard J. Ross, Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives, Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield, 2014.  Excellent and readable, especially chapter 7, “Shifting to Neutral”

Virginia Valian, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.  The single most useful book I have ever read for explaining why women tend to be undervalued in the workplace.  Particularly valuable for its integration of psychological, sociological, and economic factors and its analysis of how small disadvantages accumulate over time.  This is the book to give to anyone who believes women are no longer disadvantaged in the workplace.

Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, New York: Bantam, 2006.  There are few things we believe we control more directly than whether to eat something, and how much; this book is an entertaining look at what influences how we eat.

Ageist assumptions about whose opinions (particularly about technology) are worth engaging with may well be the next area of focused study. Here’s an interesting piece on Silicon Valley’s issues with older and younger people not engaging with each other.

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