Blond Women’s Pay Higher Than Brunettes’?

unconcious biasReality Check: Unconscious bias pervades everything from salary allocations to recruiting decisions.

By Moses Frenck

It can be quite demoralizing to be denied a job interview simply because your name sounds Black, or to earn a lower salary simply because you’re not blonde, or to be passed over for a senior role simply because you’re not tall.

But these things do happen — frequently — and in most cases they are the result of unconscious bias.

“It’s a bias that you’re unaware of, and it usually happens outside of our control,” said Lissiah Hundley, Diversity & Inclusion Strategist, Cox Enterprises, who discussed the subject of Addressing Unconscious Bias during the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Learning Sessions.

Here’s the video of her presentation.

The main takeaway, she stressed, is that you can’t deal with unconscious bias until you wholly accept it exists.

Unconscious bias happens automatically and is triggered by the brain making quick judgments and assessments of people, things, organizations, groups of people, etc., Hundley explained, and these biases come from various influences.

“Our family, environment, friends, coworkers, personal experiences, religious beliefs, the media all play a role,” she said. “The bias is usually a prejudice for — or against — these people, groups, organizations, whatever it may be.”

Most often, however, the bias is an unfair disadvantage for whatever it is that’s being judged, according to Hundley, who added that biases can be held by an individual, a group, even an institution.

Despite being pervasive, unconscious bias is becoming more understood, Hundley said, and research is changing the assumptions behind certain bias.

“Historically we assumed that all biases, prejudices were conscious, that people were just bad. They had ill intent in some of the decisions that they made,” she said. “But we’ve discovered that bias is largely unconscious; it’s unintentional. The challenge is we don’t know when we’re doing things or saying things and when it’s happening. What’s worse is how it negatively impacts us from a personal or professional perspective.”

Everyone is biased, according to Hundley, “whether you’re young, mature, male, female, rich, poor, white, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, disabled, abled, gay, straight, married, single.”

According to a study by MIT and the University of Chicago cited by Hundley, when stereotypical white or Black names are on resumes, white-sounding names received 50 percent more callbacks. Black applicants with more experience and credentials received 9 percent more callbacks vs. 30 percent for white applicants.

Some applicants, she said, hide race by using different names on resumes.

Meanwhile, when it comes to promotions based on performance and gender, a low performing man is 50 percent more likely to be promoted over high performing woman when evaluated individually. When evaluated together, bias drops and high performance wins.

What do you think of when you hear the word manager?

It turns out, 80 percent of people think of a male when they hear “manager,” and according to a Yale University study, both male and female scientists are more likely to hire men, rank them higher in competency, and pay them $4,000 more per year.

Unconscious bias goes even deeper than that, Hundley found. For example, blond women’s salaries were 7 percent higher than women who were brunettes or redheads. And for every 1 percent increase in a woman’s body mass, there was a 0.6 percent decrease in family income.

And biases are not limited to race and gender. They exist in many other ways.

For example, unconscious bias occurs when men are hired based on height. Almost 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six feet tall, while less than 15 percent of the male population is over six feet tall. Moreover, tall men move into leadership positions more frequently.

“An awareness of unconscious bias requires us to rethink the way we approach diversity and inclusion work,” Hundley said. “While we have focused on partnering, influencing and educating people so they ‘get’ diversity, the challenge is that ‘getting it,’ on a conscious level, may have little or no impact on their unconscious beliefs.”



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