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Implicit Gender Bias in Everyday Life: Implications for Leadership, Academic Achievement, and Law. Eugene Borgida Professor of Psychology and Law Women’s Faculty Cabinet Spring Reception, 4/29/10. Overview. Legal context – Title VII and “motivating factors” The science of implicit bias

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implicit gender bias in everyday life implications for leadership academic achievement and law

Implicit Gender Bias in Everyday Life: Implications for Leadership,Academic Achievement, and Law

Eugene Borgida

Professor of Psychology and Law

Women’s Faculty Cabinet Spring Reception, 4/29/10

  • Legal context – Title VII and “motivating factors”
  • The science of implicit bias
  • Implicit gender bias: role congruity theory, women and leadership, STEM and implicit gender bias
  • Remedies
legal context title vii and motivating factors6
Legal context – Title VII and “motivating factors”
  • Title VII: it is an “unlawful employment practice for an employer…to discriminate against any individual…, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
  • 1991, Congress: “an unlawful employment practice is established when the complaining party demonstrates that [a prohibited characteristic] was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.”
legal context title vii and motivating factors7
Legal context – Title VII and “motivating factors”
  • Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa: (2003): member of a protected group, suffered as a result of a negative employment decision, membership in protected group was a motivating factor in that decision.
  • Congress did not define “motivating factors” under Title VII. Do only consciously held and explicit motives qualify? Intentional not the same as explicit. Strict or broad interpretation?
  • “Behavioral realism” in the law (Krieger & Fiske 2006)
legal context title vii and motivating factors8
Legal context – Title VII and “motivating factors”
  • “Motivating factors” as consciously accessible.
  • False assumption about the accuracy of self-reports (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). Decision maker may be unaware that sex of applicant or maternal status influenced their judgments.
  • False assumption about the honesty of self-reports. Decision makers may not be able to accurately reconstruct process of thinking about how motivating factors drove their evaluations; instead rely on heuristic thinking.
the science of implicit bias
The science of implicit bias
  • The science of implicit cognition is grounded in decades of research in cognitive and social psychology showing that people’s expectations based on learned contingencies unknowingly affect everyday perceptions, judgment, memory, and behavior. Schemas drive our perceptions.
  • Mental processes about individuals and groups, as this work suggests, can operate implicitly, or outside of conscious, attentional focus.
  • This is the psychological science foundation for understanding implicit bias - the idea that we do not always have conscious, intentional control over the processes of social perception, impression formation, and judgment that motivate our actions.
the science of implicit bias10
The science of implicit bias
  • Greenwald & Krieger (2006):

“Implicit biases are discriminatory biases based on implicit attitudes or implicit stereotypes. Implicit biases are especially intriguing, and also especially problematic, because they can produce behavior that diverges from a person’s avowed or endorsed beliefs or principles” (p.951).

implicit gender bias
Implicit gender bias
  • Gender stereotypes: women are kind, communal, care about others, pay attention to emotions. Men are agentic, task-oriented, have leadership qualities (Eagly’s 1987 social role theory; Eagly & Karau’s 2002 role congruity theory of gender prejudice; Ridgeway’s 2001 status characteristics theory).
  • Explicit and implicitly endorsed. Variety of response latency tasks used to measure these implicit gender stereotypes. Both men and women associate gender stereotypic trait-role pairings more quickly and automatically.
implicit gender bias12
Implicit gender bias
  • Faigman et al (2008):
  • “Studies have used a variety of different methodologies and converged on the common finding that implicit gender stereotypes emerge in people’s judgments and decisions when measured in ways that bypass decision makers’ awareness of potential bias” (p.1410).
  • Robust scientific literature: years of research attention, different research paradigms, different labs, multi-method. Can educate triers of fact.
implicit gender bias13
Implicit gender bias

Psychological “fit” between gender stereotypes and role stereotypes: Women and leadership.

Gender prejudice emerges from the clash of gender stereotypes and work role expectations -- role incongruity or lack of fit.

Leadership roles are equated with masculinity. Female leaders are evaluated as less leader-like than their male counterparts. Backlash against female leaders.

Bias against full-time workers who are also caregivers.

hoobler wayne lemmon 2009
Hoobler, Wayne, & Lemmon (2009)
  • Sample of male and female middle managers (n=52) and reporting subordinates (n=126) in a Midwestern division of a global Fortune 100 transportation company.
  • Survey research to examine social role theory idea that women, more so than men, are viewed from a nonwork, caregiving perspective, and that their nonwork demands will be more salient to workplace colleagues.
hoobler wayne lemmon 200916
Hoobler, Wayne, & Lemmon (2009)
  • Importance of managers’ perceptions of family-work conflict (controlling for actual family-work conflict responsibilities) – the “perception-promotability relationship” – “whether women’s promotability is hampered by their bosses’ perceptions that they experience greater family-work conflict than men and thus have poorer fit with their organizations and jobs” (p.951).

“Think leader, think male” stereotype (V.A. Schein, 1973, 1975). Being a woman still associated with less effective leadership (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003) and fewer attributes for organizational success (Heilman & Haynes, 2008).


Hoobler, J.M., Wayne, S.J., Lemmon, G. (2009). Bosses' perceptions of family-work conflict and women's

promotability: Glass ceiling effects. /Academy of Management Journal/, /52/ (5), 939-957.

stem and implicit bias
STEM and implicit bias
  • Stereotypes that men are more talented in math and science are thought to influence STEM aspirations and achievements of boys & girls, men & women. Implicit associations between male & science, and female & liberal arts for men and women. People may be unaware of these implicit stereotypes or they may not wish to reveal that they endorse them.
  • Women who endorse such stereotypes report less interest in math and science, less likely to pursue a math or science degree (Schmader et al 2004).
stem and implicit bias20
STEM and implicit bias
  • Reminding women of the “math=male” stereotype or subtly priming or highlighting gender is enough to weaken their performance on a subsequent math or engineering exam (compared to a control group; Spencer, Steele & Quinn, 1999).
  • This is known as social identity threat (Steele, 2010, “identity contingencies”). Seems to occur via elevated anxiety (and increased cognitive load due to this anxiety) that one’s own behavior will potentially confirm a stereotype about one’s group (Steele 1997; Steele, Spencer & Aronson 2002).
  • Reappraisal of anxiety predicts better performance even under threat – told that anxiety will not harm performance - as does teaching about stereotype threat (Schmader 2010).

I. What do we learn from the research on prejudice reduction?

  • Prejudice Reduction: What works? Best assessment of research and practice (Paluck & Green, 2009)
  • PR = “a causal pathway from an intervention (e.g., a peer conversation, a media program, an organizational policy, a law) to a reduced level of prejudice.”
  • Review of 985 studies (72% published) on prejudice reduction (racism, homophobia, ageism, ethnic and religious antipathy, overweight, disability, but not gender). Multi-method database, and wide range of interventions (from the contact hypothesis to media campaigns to diversity training to antibias education and sensitivity training).
  • Note: sex-based prejudice reduction interventions were excluded. Rationale: the process of change and what are successful remedies with regard to gender bias may be different.

Paluck & Green (2009) conclusions:

  • 1. Causal effects of many prejudice-reduction interventions “remain unknown.” We do not know (yet) what works.
  • 2. Extended intergroup contact and cooperative learning interventions appear promising but more rigorous empirical assessment in order. Former can reduce outgroup hostility, increase perspective-taking; the latter can be a tool for breaking down ingroup/outgroup boundaries.
  • 3. Until gender-based interventions are independently evaluated, one should be careful about generalizing ideas directly from one to another domain. Be guided by evidence in Table 1.

Paluck & Green (2009)


II. Awareness still matters

  • In Hoobler, et al (2009), managers should be made aware of their potential to hold these implicit stereotypic biases.
  • Also making sure that employees signal to managers that they are experiencing work-life conflict. Not without risk of underscoring stereotypic perceptions. Leslie, Manchester and colleagues at Carlson School – it depends on managers’ perceptions of motive for use of FWP.
  • STRIDE at Michigan – faculty across the sciences, overview of implicit gender bias research.

III. Accountability

Kalev, Dobbin & Kelly (2008): effective accountability and oversight structures in organizations centralize authority for diversity, and the presence of such structures also makes diversity training and evaluations more effective.

Building accountability into a wide range of institutional practices and policies.

  • To address implicit gender bias, you need awareness, changes in policies and practices, and leaders who are willing to hold people accountable.