An Exploration Into How We Can Eradicate Unintentional Bias and Discrimination
Human judgment—and the prejudices and unconscious biases that it can give rise to—will always be with us.That’s why Jessica Nordell’s critically acclaimed book The End of Bias comes with the subtitle, “A Beginning.”One approach that can help reduce discrimination, Nordell found during her research, is to use objective criteria in making decisions about health care assessments and corporate promotions, among other examples.“It's not so much about changing hearts and minds as it is about changing the decision-making environment, changing the structure within which people make a decision, so that their own biases are less likely to play a role,” said Nordell, an award-winning author and science writer.In assessing the results of anti-bias and anti-discrimination interventions, Nordell focuses on examining data and looking for measurable change, she said during a session at a From Day One conference in May in Minneapolis, where she is based.“I tell stories about people and organizations and cultures that have actually changed in measurable ways and then try to explain and explore what allowed them to do that,” Nordell told moderator Stephanie Sisco, an assistant professor in the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.Nordell cited a group of trauma surgeons at Johns Hopkins University as an example of the difference that objective criteria can make. After the surgeons began using a computerized checklist, instead of their clinical judgment to assess patients for blood clots, those patients began getting appropriate treatment at much higher rates. The gender disparity for women, who previously were almost 50 percent more likely to miss out on blood clot prevention, disappeared, even though the doctors had not set out to decrease the bias.Businesses have seen positive results from similar efforts. “One approach that decreases discrimination against women and underrepresented minorities in corporate environments in terms of their ability to be promoted into management is using consistent, objective, transparent criteria for making decisions,” Nordell said.Jessica Nordell, pictured, signed copies of The End of Bias for the From Day One Minneapolis attendees (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Where many psychologists see two kinds of bias, prejudice based on deeply held beliefs and unconscious bias, Nordell believes another form also exists: unexamined bias.“That better captures the fact that there’s a kind of unknowable combination of conscious and unconscious things happening,” Nordell said. “If we’re holding beliefs that we haven’t examined and we’re acting on those” that requires “deep, personal introspection and deep grappling with our belief system, with our values.”Nordell told Sisco that she had written about bias and discrimination for years as a journalist but became impatient reporting on those issues and trying to persuade readers to care. She wanted to know what to do about bias and discrimination and wanted to read a book that offered “a thorough examination of what change’s people’s behavior, what changes organizations and what changes cultures to become more fair.When she couldn’t find that book, Nordell wrote it. She spent five years on The End of Bias, which she thought would be an 18-month project.While we may never reach the end that the title suggests, Nordell believes “that we can get a lot closer and we can do a lot better.”“We can relate to each other in much more humane ways than we have,” Nordell continued. “And that’s really my goal with the book, to, wherever we are, move us more in that right direction.”Todd Nelson is a Minnesota-based journalist who writes for newspapers in the Twin Cities.