Real Talk About Implicit Bias
This is what I read on Twitter.
Shall we get real for a moment about implicit bias and blind submissions?
— Shaula Evans (@ShaulaEvans) November 13, 2014
And then I read the rest of Shaula's thread and asked her if I could reproduce it here.
I've been Shaula's fan ever since I met her on The Black Board, the scriptwriting community she founded and used to moderate. I always felt happy there because of her excellent information and the warmth and style of her responses. And I'm very happy that a little bit of Shaula is now here. Thanks a million, Shaula.
Shall we get real for a moment about implicit bias and blind submissions? 'Implicit bias' refers to unconscious bias (i.e, prejudice) about groups of people. (If you're unfamiliar with the term, here's a quick primer: Stanford University: FAQ on Implicit Bias.)
Do you think you're too hip and liberated to exhibit implicit bias? You're not. Science says it's real and we all suffer from it despite our noblest intentions. But don't take my word for it, try the Implicit Assumption Test (IAT) yourself: Project Implicit.
Study after study shows that blind submissions/auditions (that remove race/gender identifies) minimize the effects of implicit bias. Translation: taking away (/minimizing) the possibility of discriminating by race & gender levels the playing field for everybody.
Why should you care? Especially if you're white or male or a member of some other social group for which implicit bias works in your favor?
Well, if you care about finding the top talent in your field (vs making biased decisions), blind submissions will help you do that. And if you genuinely care about diversity, blind submissions level the playing field so that marginalized people get a fair shot.
Good news: we live in the 21st century & there are great tech options to enable blind submissions. There is no excuse not to adopt blind submissions in your organization.
Let's look at how implicit bias works in the writing world. If your response to the issues raised by implicit bias is to put the onus on writers to use a pseudonym & mask their identity to get ahead, then:
1. You are shifting the blame for institutional discrimination from your organization to the individual.
2. You are asking already marginalized people to erase their identities.
3. You are losing out on great talent that is sidelined by prejudice.
Whether you work in film, publishing, HR (resumes), orchestras (blind auditions), or any gatekeeping field, do yourself a favor: educate yourself about implicit bias and get serious about blind submissions. Or, alternatively, acknowledge that you don't give a rat's ass about diversity and finding top talent--but be honest about it.
Instituting blind submissions is one of the many situations where the moral case aligns with the business case: doing the right thing will get you better results.
Bertrand, Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. "Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal? A Field Experiment On Labor Market Discrimination," American Economic Review, 2004, v94 (4, Sep), 991-1013.
Goldin, Claudia and Cecilia Rouse. "Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact Of 'Blind' Auditions On Female Musicians," American Economic Review, 2000, v90 (4, Sep), 715-741.
Jennings, Karla. "In praise of being a blind reader," May 21, 2014, HowlRound.com
Nichols, Catherine. "Homme De Plume:What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name," August 4, 2015 Jezebel.com
Rice, Curt. "How blind auditions help orchestras to eliminate gender bias," The Guardian, October 14, 2013.
Staats, Cheryl. State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, The Ohio State University.
Related Wellywood Woman Posts
Reading Women's Scripts
Underrepresentation in Scriptwriting (Again)
Both of these refer to Emily Glassberg Sands' thesis on reading scripts for theatre, Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theater, a very fine and fascinating read.
And when I tweeted about this post Pip Hall, current president of the New Zealand Writers Guild, provided the NZWG details. The SEED grants she refers to were previously administered by New Zealand's state film fund, the New Zealand Film Commission, which did not blind read.
@devt @ShaulaEvans @NZWritersGuild @Bang2write @ewawomen When NZWG took over SEED grants we went blind. Women received 5 out of 7 grants.
— Pip Hall (@misspiphall) November 19, 2014
The details about how many more women writers submitted scripts when responsibility for SEED grants went to the NZWG and the subsequent increase in investment in women-written scripts, are in here and here. Earlier gender stats for writer-only funding are in this New Zealand Film Commission paper by Selina Joe.