If nothing is done, the lack of diversity in STEM fields could cause serious damage to the American economy in the years to come. Up until now, it was a widely accepted that the issues with diversity resulted from a lack of viable minority candidates for STEM jobs. The effects of unconscious bias haven’t really been considered.
A recent article in the Washington Post has proven this assumption wrong. According to Cecilia Kang and Todd C. Frankel, there is no shortage of talented minority candidates vying for STEM jobs. The real issue is unconscious bias.
This is a very serious problem, not just for tech companies, but for other companies that rely heavily on STEM jobs. These organizations will soon have a greatly diminished talent pool to recruit talent from. Less talent means less innovation.
Lack of diversity is a direct result of unconscious bias, which means that tech companies need to do their part to diminish unconscious bias as much as possible. The problem is that the effects of unconscious bias are still being downplayed.
The Risk To the Economy
STEM professions make up a large part of the economy. Additionally, these fields are one of the main drivers of innovation in our country.
The minority population is growing. It’s estimated that in the coming decades, minorities will make up more than 50% of the US population.
This means that a lack of diversity in STEM fields could mean a lack of available talent in these professions. This could pose serious problems for our economy. The less available talent in STEM fields, the less innovation we will enjoy in the decades to come.
The Effects of Unconscious Bias
One of the most prevailing myths up until this point has been that the lack of diversity in STEM fields results from a lack of available minority talent. There’s just not enough minorities who are pursuing careers in STEM fields. They’re not obtaining college degrees that relate to these types of positions.
According to the Washington Post article, this isn’t true, at least when it comes to tech companies.
The authors of the article point out the fact that:
“Fresh data show that op schools are turning out black and Hispanic graduates with tech degrees at rates significantly higher than they are being hired by leading tech firms.”
So what’s the real issue then? It’s called unconscious bias. Unconscious bias it what causes people to form prejudicial judgments about others. These judgments influence our decisions when it comes to hiring and promotions.
The effects of unconscious bias is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations who wish to create a more diverse workforce.
In order to promote greater diversity in STEM fields, we need to combat unconscious bias. If we can limit the impact of unconscious bias, we can solve the diversity problem.
What Is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias refers to the hidden prejudices and attitudes that we have towards people who are different from us. These biases aren’t just hidden from other people, they are hidden from ourselves as well. Most people are acting on unconscious biases without even knowing it.
It’s not something that people do intentionally.
Unconscious bias usually comes from our past experiences and interactions with others. Our brains categorize different types of people based on these experiences. So when we see someone of a certain ethnicity, our brains put them in a specific category. We use these categories to make judgments about that person.
This function of our brains is what helped us survive in the past. If there was a lion approaching, there wasn’t any time to figure out whether or not the lion was good or bad, right? You made an instant judgment based on past experience, and if you were smart, you’d run the other way!
In this day and age, we no longer need to group everyone into separate categories for the sake of expediency. When we’re thinking about hiring or promoting someone, we are able to take the time to truly discover whether or not the person is right for the job without relying on erroneous preconceived ideas.
How To Combat Unconscious Bias
The good news is this: unconscious bias can be beaten. We don’t have to be slaves to our prejudices and attitudes. However, it isn’t easy. It takes work from both the individual and the organization as a whole.
Here are some tips to help limit unconscious bias:
Be Aware Of It
The first step to fighting unconscious bias is to become aware of it. Most of the danger lies in the fact that we don’t even know that we’re making judgments based on our hidden biases. We think we’re making objective decisions based on facts.
Dealing with unconscious bias means understanding what it is, accepting that you have it, and taking steps to limit its influence. It also means understanding that it’s not your fault. Every single person has hidden biases that influence their decisions. It’s how our brains work. When we understand this, we are in a better position to do something about it.
Introspection: Asking The Right Questions
After understanding that we have unconscious biases, we need to make ourselves conscious of the biases we have. What judgments do we typically make about people who are different from us? Why do we make these judgments?
If you are in a position of choosing a candidate for a job or promotion, you should examine your assessment of the individual and honestly determine whether or not your biases are influencing your decision. The best question to ask is “why?”
Ask yourself why you have made the judgments you have made about the candidate. This applies to good judgments as well as bad judgments. Try to figure out whether or not any of these judgments make logical sense.
Lastly, you must have accountability in your organization. Professionals who are responsible for hiring and promotions must be held to certain standards in making their decisions.
Your company has to have procedures in place that are designed to uncover any potential cases of decisions made as a result of unconscious bias. This can be done by taking an objective look at the people who are being hired and promoted.
For example, if you notice that the leadership of a particular department is made up of mostly men, then it’s possible that unconscious bias is causing a lack of diversity. Of course, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. First, investigate the situation. There may actually be a valid reason for the makeup of this particular department’s leadership.
Either way, it’s important that a company carefully monitors its hiring decisions. It’s a very effective way to spot cases of unconscious bias.
The effects of unconscious bias are present in every company, even those outside of the tech world. However, companies with a STEM focus have been shown to be more susceptible to diversity problems due to unconscious bias.
Since STEM companies are becoming an increasingly important part of our economy, we need to make sure that unconscious bias isn’t eliminating the potential talent pool for STEM fields. If this happens, there will be much less talent to choose from, which could mean less innovation and a less healthy economy.