What can we do about unconscious bias? First, we have to be aware that it exists. Then we need to establish policies and put them into practice. Finally, there needs to be accountability. We can illustrate this process with an example: A Faculty Search Committee. How do we typically start a job search for a new faculty member? There are several standard steps: (1) the department chair forms a search committee; (2) the committee writes an ad targeting a specific sub-discipline; (3) the position is advertised; and (4) the committee members go about their business until the applications begin to pour in.
If you follow this standard practice, odds are that the racial and gender diversity of your applicant pool will look a lot like your current dept. If you want the pool to be more diverse, you have to work a bit harder. Your job will start even before the formation of the committee with a step zero: (0) recruitment of the applicant pool. Here are some pointers to consider during this all-important step zero: recruit proactively year-round; recruit from wider range of institutions; recruit specifically for underrepresented groups; use “open searches” (broad vs. narrow job definitions); and if possible, advertise for multiple positions at once (cluster hiring).
When you begin your venture into active recruiting, make a conscious effort to widen the range of institutions from which you recruit. Consider candidates, including women and minorities, who may currently be thriving at less well-ranked institutions. They may be there because of factors that have nothing to do with scientific talent. Some examples might be early career decisions based on factors other than ranking of institution; past discrimination by top tier institutions; and the candidate’s own internalization of schemas.
The composition of the search committee is extremely important. Since jury deliberations can be analogous to faculty search deliberations, we may want to take a lesson from studies of racial diversity in jury deliberations. Studies find that, compared with all-white juries, diverse juries deliberating about an African American defendant: took longer to discuss the case; mentioned more facts; made fewer inaccurate statements; left fewer inaccurate statements uncorrected, and discussed more race-related issues (Sommers 2006). The lesson here is that even though a critical mass might not be available, one woman or one person of color on the search committee can make a difference.
Sommers (2006) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90 (4), 597-612.
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