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Unconsciousness raising: the pernicious effects of unconscious bias

  • Law


Unconsciousness Raising: Ther Pernicious Effects of Unconscious Bias Q1 2005 REGIONAL REVIEW 33 even if we could completely eliminate intentional discrimination, unconscious bias would still remain A by barbara reskin Our brains are wired to reflexively categorize and stereotype people, often in ways we consciously reject as false raising unconsciousness lthough women have made unprecedented headway in the work world over the last 30 years, it has been slow going. The pay gap between the sexes has narrowed by about a half a cent a year, the decline in sex segregation stalled in the 1990s, and women’s share of executive jobs has only been inching up. In short, equal opportunity remains out of reach for most women. In the past, discrimination against employed women was commonplace. No doubt, several bushels full of bad apples still intentionally discriminate, but overt, intentional discrimination almost disappeared after it was outlawed. Unfortunately, a second type of discrimination, one outside the reach of the law, per- sists across American workplaces. This discrimina- tion originates in unconscious mental processes that systematically distort the way we see other people. In order to deal with a constant barrage of stimuli, our brains are wired to reflexively categorize and stereo- type people, often in ways that we would consciously reject. All but impossible to detect in ourselves, these unconscious reactions are normally outside of our control. While they are largely invisible, their con- sequences are not: They systematically disadvantage women—and minorities—at work. Although individuals cannot banish the automatic unconscious distortions that limit women’s careers, employers can minimize their discriminatory effects 34 REGIONAL REVIEW Q1 2005 through personnel policies that reduce managers’ discretion, such as formalizing hiring and promotion practices, holding managers accountable for fair decisions

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