Innovation Hub: Businesses Know You’re Biased

6/6/14Follow @IHubRadio

Who’s better at math? Women or men?

Studies show that both men and women believe men are better at math, even when data indicates otherwise.

To understand why we have these biases—and why businesses think that getting rid of them will help the bottom line—I sat down with Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji (pictured), the co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.

[The following interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the full interview, visit www.innovationhub.org.]

Kara Miller: Let’s start with the issue of math. I think most people believe they’re fair-minded. Do most of us really think that men are better than women at math?

Mahzarin Banaji: There’s actually a recent study showing that when employers were asked to look for employees who were good at math, employers selected men. The researchers then told employers that the men and the women had performed at the same level on math tests. And the bias lessened. But it remained.

KM: I talked recently to someone about how few venture capital dollars go to women-run businesses, perhaps because almost all the venture capitalists handing out the big bucks are men. Is there a way to solve this?

MB: The world of business is very interested in bias. I would go so far as to say that they’re more interested than the non-profit world. Because bias is costing businesses money. They want the best workforce. They want to promote the very best people.

KM: That’s really interesting that when money is the highest goal, the research gets embraced.

MB: Absolutely. One of the most striking examples is a man in South India who runs a software company who tries to hire people with disabilities. He said: I’m not trying to be a good person, but I just saw that these people were incredibly underemployed and I could make a lot of money by employing them. And his clients are hesitant and don’t want to pay the same for the work produced by his disabled folk. He’ll say, you’re right; you shouldn’t pay the same amount. People in wheelchairs don’t take as many coffee breaks, and people who are hearing impaired don’t gossip as much. You can just imagine the poor client on the other end of the phone line cringing about the fact that they ever asked this question.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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