Unconscious Bias in Faculty and Leadership Recruitment: A Literature Review

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Although women and minorities have made significant strides in achieving equality in the workplace, they are still underrepresented in the upper strata of organizations, including senior faculty and leadership positions at medical schools and teaching hospitals. Within the last decade, social science researchers have pursued the theory of “unconscious bias” as one barrier to workplace equality that may persist despite a general commitment to increase diversity across the academic medicine workforce and other organi- zations. This Analysis in Brief reviews the scientific literature on the theory of unconscious bias, explores the role of unconscious bias in job recruitment and evaluations, and offers suggestions for search committees and others involved in hiring decisions at medical schools and teaching hospitals. Though not directly connected to career-related unconscious bias, studies involving the IAT receive the most support for the theory of uncon- scious bias in general. The IAT has consistently demonstrated that people unconsciously prefer white over black, young over old, and thin over fat, and that people have stereotypic associations linking males with science and careers and females with liberal arts and family. Typically, the IAT requires test-takers to rapidly match individuals of different demographics to words and pictures of varying pleasantness. The quick associations that the test-takers must make reveal their unconscious biases. Additionally, the test-takers often complete a measure of conscious bias. Correlations between scores on the pairing task and the conscious bias scale are generally weak, suggesting that participants have unconscious biases. 

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