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Resources on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias—also known as implicit social cognition—refers to thoughts and feelings that are outside of conscious awareness and control. Although we all would like to believe that we are objective and capable of judging people solely on the basis of merit, over 20 years of research demonstrates that we generally fall short of our self-perceptions (see, e.g., Banaji et al (2003)). There is a vast literature on unconscious bias. This page provides links to some online resources, a list of suggested strategies for minimizing bias in faculty recruitment, and a selected list of academic studies and other articles on the topic. 

You may also download and print our  one-page tip sheet, Research Supporting the Existence of Unconscious Bias and its Effects on Diversity in Recruitment

Online Resources

  • Implicit Association Test. Project Implicit is a non-profit organization founded by researchers from the University of Washington, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia. Its goal is to educate the public about hidden biases and to function as a virtual laboratory for collecting data on unconscious bias. The link takes you to a page where you can take online implicit association tests (IATs) relating to different types of unconscious bias, including skin-tone preference, sexuality preference, the link between gender and science, age preference, the link between gender and family versus career, racial preference, weight preference, disability preference, and others. For an analysis of issues relating to IAT procedures and application, see Nosek et al (2005).

Strategies for Minimizing the Impact of Bias in Recruitment

Set forth below is a list of specific interventions for addressing unconscious bias in the context of faculty recruitment. The strategies, adapted principally from WISELI's Searching for Excellence and Diversity® Guide (see pages 52-60), are grounded in research, including the studies listed in the bibliography below. All of these strategies are also reflected in the Faculty Search Guidelines

  1. Set ground rules for search committee meetings (e.g.: no interrupting other committee members).
  2. In advance of a search, facilitate structured discussions around the academic criteria for evaluating candidates so that the search committee has a unified conception of what criteria to use, how to weigh them, and how to measure quality within a given domain.
  3. Use structured evaluation templates for reviewing applications, job talk evaluations, and one-on-one interviews. These templates should include both quantitative rankings of job-relevant criteria and qualitative written information. For quantitative rankings, forms should provide instruction about what type of behavior/achievement corresponds to each level of score.
  4. Spend sufficient time evaluating each applicant, and minimize distractions when reviewing applicant materials.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the literature on unconscious bias (see bibliography below).
  6. Be aware of your own potential biases.
  7. Encourage others to call out incidents of bias.
  8. Use inclusion rather than exclusion strategies in making selection decisions (e.g.: include for further consideration those applicants the search committee deems to be qualified as opposed to excluding those it deems to be unqualified).
  9. Agree in advance on a set of interview questions that will be asked of each candidate (see also Appendix F - Legal Considerations in the Faculty Search Guidelines).
  10. Be prepared to defend each decision to advance or eliminate a candidate.

Selected Studies and Other Articles on Unconscious Bias

(access to most of the links provided below requires a Northwestern University NetID and Password)

Studies of Biases in Academia

Studies of Biases Relevant to Personnel Decisions

Other Resources