The following are my notes from Dovidio’s talk at the HBS Gender & Work Conference, February 28, 2013.
Social inclusion is essential to equality. Discrimination is systematic exclusion.
Exclusion is painful. But superficial inclusion cloaks injustice and takes the form of subtle contemporary bias.
Contemporary bias: there are explicit attitudes about racism and sexism and there are implicit attitudes. Explicit and implicit attitudes are only weakly correlated.
Most Americans (80%) say they’re not racist or sexist [explicit attitudes], but 60-70% of the population is racist/sexist according to implicit measures of bias. Most people will rely on explicit attitudes when a situation is unambiguous, and when what needs to be done is absolutely clear. Most discrimination occurs when a situation is ambiguous (i.e., what is right and wrong behavior is not defined) or justifications are possible for racism and sexism (such as “merit”).
Devine (1989) study of Black and White candidates who either had strong or moderate qualifications: There was no difference in the recommendations for the Black or White candidate when they each had strong qualifications, but there was preference for the White candidate over the Black candidate when they had moderate qualifications. In other words, when in doubt (e.g., qualifications are moderate), White applicants are given the benefit of the doubt, but Black applicants are not.
1999 study showed that explicit racism had declined since 1989, but implicit sexism had not and had the same effects.
2005 study of HR professionals yielded the same results as the 1989 study.
Study of college applicants with high or low GPAs and high or low test scores: Participants judged the most important qualification to be whatever qualification the White applicant happened to be strong in and the Black applicant happened to be weak in.
Objective criteria licences bias by providing alternative justifications for discrimination.
Ability to do something unbiased first leads to more biased decision making later.
STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) fields: These fields are proud of their “objective” merit, yet witness the largest disparity between men and women. Genetic explanations have been offered but have been convincingly refuted with research. Difficult career decisions might be part of the problem, but not all of it. Discrimination is a real issue — justifications you can attach numbers to.
Moss-Racusin et al., 2012 PNAS study: Sent female or a male candidates with the exact same qualifications to science faculty who were asked to indicate how much they would choose that candidate as a lab manager. The female candidate was rated as less hireable than the male candidate, science faculty were less willing to mentor her, and she was seen as less competent than the male candidate.
People who don’t think they’re biased cloak their discrimination in objectivity.
Social categorization is malleable, so getting a perceiver to think of the target as a member of the same group as the perceiver seems like a good solution, but actually does not work. Thinking of advantaged group members and disadvantaged group members as members of a common group makes us blind to the disparities between them, and blind to the fact that the criteria used to judge everyone are those created by and for members of the dominant group.
Strategic inclusion study: Two three-person groups. One group was to distribute credits (10) among the two. They could interact with each other with a communality focus [emphasizing what they had in common] or a difference focus [emphasizing how they were different]. When communality was discussed, groups liked each other better than when differences were discussed. Also, in the communality condition, the disadvantaged group (that did not control the credits) no longer paid attention to the fact that their group was disadvantaged and was more likely to expect the advantaged group to be benevolent in its sharing of the credits. But their expectations for fairness went unmet — in fact, the advantaged group allocated even fewer credits to the disadvantaged group in the communality than in the difference condition.
Social change occurs when people are unhappy — when the goal of the disadvantaged group is not to be liked, but to get justice. If people of color focus on getting respect while women focus on being liked, women are less likely to make progress than people of color.
When unequal groups like each other, the advantaged group is less likely to perceive disparities between themselves and the disadvantaged group, and are less likely to see themselves as unfair. Thus intergroup liking serves as an impediment to achieving equality. It puts blinders on people so they don’t see it. When sex and racial groups like each other, women and minority groups are less likely to think about their disadvantages and are more likely to blame themselves for their failure. They’re less likely to perceive prejudice and to confront sexism, racism, or to support collective action.
When communality and integrity of a common group identity becomes the most important goal, what occurs is cooptation. It’s a clever ploy to fool members of the disadvantaged group to feel liked and included and perpetuates their disadvantage.
Military study: “Race blind” and “gender blind” promotions created freedom to discriminate against women and minorities. “We’re all in the same uniform here” did not work to advance women and minorities in the military. Led to explanations such as “We can’t find enough good women and minorities to promote.” You have to make people talk about inequality at a conscious level to make progress. Intervention: Colonel stated openly, “I believe women and men are equal in ability. I believe Whites and Blacks etc. are equal in ability. I therefore expect the same proportion of women and men, Whites and Blacks, to get promoted. If this does not occur, I expect an explanation as to why not.” Basically this was an accountability manipulation [and a strong endorsement of equality from the leader, aka as he had “religion” or the value and belief behind it]. Openly stating belief in equal ability and expecting equal rates of promotion led to equal proportions of women and minorities getting promoted; gender- and race-blind statements about a common group identity (e.g., “we’re all the same”) led to more White men getting promoted.
Don’t try to “smooth things over” — coopts minority groups, lets the majority get away with bias.
You can’t rely on good intentions because most bias is subconscious. Think of structural interventions to change the rules of the game.
[A must-see for all administrators, executives, leaders, anyone making selection decisions.]