How biased are hiring decisions? Wente

Wente does raise a valid question whether blind cvs will necessarily improve representation of women given that there may be some conscious biases in favour of more women  to redress current imbalances (see my earlier Ottawa pilots ‘name-blind’ recruitment to reduce ‘unconscious bias’ in hiring).

One of her better columns as does not present studies that only favour her main argument – a positive bias in favour of women – but also those studies that demonstrate the impact of implicit biases.

That being said, the current federal public service pilot will provide some useful data for the public service in this regard with respect to all four employment equity groups:

Australia did this too. Twenty-one hundred civil servants were asked to assess hypothetical candidates for senior jobs. Half the résumés had identifying information, and half did not. But the results were a shock. Blind hiring made things worse. It turns out that when recruiters had identifying information, they actively discriminated in favour of women and minorities – just as they’d done all along.

“Participants were 2.9 per cent more likely to shortlist female candidates and 3.2 per cent less likely to shortlist male applicants when they were identifiable,” the researchers said. “Minority males were 5.8 per cent more likely to be shortlisted and minority females were 8.6 per cent more likely to be shortlisted. … The positive discrimination was strongest for Indigenous female candidates who were 22.2 per cent more likely to be shortlisted.”

“We anticipated this would have a positive impact on diversity,” Michael Hiscox, the Harvard academic who oversaw the project, said sheepishly. “We found the opposite.” He recommended that the experiment be put on hold.

Privately, plenty of people in government and academia will tell you that hiring bias now favours women, especially in male-dominated fields. In France, researchers found, female applicants for teaching jobs in math and physics at all levels are now preferred over men. (Conversely, men have a slight edge in traditionally feminine fields such as literature.) What’s going on? The researchers concluded that the examiners are probably trying to counteract gender stereotypes.

In another famous (and hotly controversial) study, psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams submitted hundreds of résumés from hypothetical candidates applying for tenure-track positions in STEM fields. They foundthat the women were favoured by a ratio of 2 to 1.

No one would argue that gender discrimination does not exist. But maybe it isn’t the monster problem some folks think it is. And maybe twisting ourselves into pretzels to erase imaginary biases in hiring is a poor idea.

Source: How biased are hiring decisions? – The Globe and Mail

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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