Unconcious Bias and its Influence on Decision Making

What is Unconscious Bias?

An enormous body of literature confirms that we all have biases—some explicit, many
implicit. These biases have an effect on how we view others and how we make decisions,
including decisions about faculty hiring. Perhaps most disturbing, implicit biases can be
at odds with our own conceptions of ourselves and our conscious values and standards.
You may believe yourself to be open-minded and you may be determined to select the
most meritorious candidate before you. But a good deal of evidence from the behavioral
sciences—some of it conducted on university professors themselves—demonstrates that
actual achievements are often set aside in favor of those who fit some group stereotype of
those likely to succeed.

Recognize Your Own Unconscious Biases

Acknowledging and understanding your biases and those of your colleagues can minimize
the influence they have on the search. Spending sufficient time on evaluation can also reduce
the influence of assumptions that may not be warranted.
Harvard Professor Mahzarin Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in
the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is a leading authority
on unconscious bias and its effects on decision making. Search committee members are
encouraged to read her recent book: Banaji, MR & Greenwald, AG (2013) Blind Spot: Hidden
Biases of Good People (New York: Delacorte Press). It’s a great read and will change your
view of the world.

Take an Implicit Association Test (IAT)

Professor Banaji and colleagues have developed an online set of tasks designed to assess
associations between personal attributes (e.g., gender, race, or sexual orientation) and your
positive or negative views about them. Project Implicit, hosted at Harvard, includes dozens
of IATs that allow you—in the privacy of your office or home—to explore your implicit

Excerpted from Harvard University | Best Practices for Conducting Faculty Searches, Version 1.2