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The Role of Bias

The above statistics speak to a much deeper history of systemic bias and discrimination toward people from all these underrepresented groups.

Definition A bias is an inclination in favor of or against a particular person or group based on factors such as race, ethnicity, age, educational prestige, appearance, and so on. As a type of observational error, bias leads to unfair and ineffective outcomes when it affects decision-making. Bias can operate systematically where an individual’s decision-making is persistently affected or on a systemic basis where a process or group dynamic produces biased decisions. Explicit biases (or conscious biases) are inclinations about particular people or groups that an individual has and is aware of. Implicit biases (or unconscious biases) are inclinations based on subconscious associations that influence our decisions without us being aware of them.*

Biases are a kind of mental shortcut; rather than treating everyone as a complex individual, we pick factors by which to group them and assign that group certain expectations, with no evidence that those expectations are borne out in individual behavior. Implicit or unconscious biases are especially difficult to deal with because we don’t know that we have them, and they may even contradict the views we consciously hold. For example, a group of physicians may not consciously believe that Black patients feel less pain than white patients, but nevertheless recommend less pain medication for their Black patients experiencing the same injury as their white patients.*

There are many types of unconscious bias that affect people in general, and thus also affect hiring processes. Harvard developed a free online tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to help people become more aware of their unconscious biases.

But there are plenty of conscious biases as well. For example, an overreliance on traditional academic pedigrees when screening for candidates vastly favors people who could afford a costly education and had access to resources and networks as a young person. We cover more biases throughout this section to help raise awareness and to provide practical suggestions on how to discuss and combat them in your organization.

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Holloway Guide ToTechnical Recruiting and Hiring

Align your team to avoid expensive hiring mistakes.

A practical, expert-reviewed Guide to growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates.

  • 440-page online book
  • 838+links and references
  • Digital access to this title in the Holloway Reader
  • Downloadable PDF for personal offline use
Length: 440 pages
Edition: e1.0.6
Last Updated: 2020-11-20
Language: English
ISBN (print):