As mentioned in Step 2 (Forming an Inclusive Hiring Committee), a strong hiring committee should be composed of individuals who represent diverse social categories. It is especially important that hiring committees comprise faculty and/or program affiliates who are members of underrepresented groups. Hiring committees should also be trained to recognize and counteract implicit bias. It is important to note, however, that some research suggests implicit-bias training can be marginally effective, ineffective, and even counterproductive—depending on how it is administered and how trainees perceive it. 

Addressing Implicit and Explicit Biases

While explicit bias may be relatively easy to recognize and address, implicit (unconscious) bias is much more insidious. To mitigate implicit bias, everyone involved in hiring decisions must be willing to confront the uncomfortable reality that despite their best intentions, their perceptions are influenced by unconscious biases. They must also take precautionary steps to identify these biases and ensure they do not impact hiring decisions. 

Biases in Letters of Recommendation

As mentioned in Step 3 (Advertising the Position to Attract a Diverse Applicant Pool), letters of recommendation are prone to reflect implicit biases. For this reason, if they are collected at all, they should be collected late in the search process—when the hiring committee already has a well-defined understanding of applicants' strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, those who evaluate letters of recommendation, should be trained to recognize and counteract implicit bias. 

Relationship Biases

Bias can also come into play when people are asked to evaluate applicants they know. It is important that committee members are forthcoming in regard to existing connections with applicants. Committee members must honestly assess whether they can be unbiased. If not, they should remove themselves from reviewing the applicants in question.

Institutional Bias

One form of bias that can be especially prevalent and highly tolerated in academic circles is institutional bias. It operates on the assumption that elite institutions employ more stringent curricula, and therefore better prepare graduate students for the rigors of an academic career. It is true that the quality of professional training varies from institution to institution and advisor to advisor. On a whole, elite universities have competitive admissions programs and high academic standards, which can make their graduates strong candidates for academic careers. But the automatic assumption that applicants from these institutions are inherently superior to other applicants is fundamentally flawed. Furthermore, this logic reproduces systems of inequity. Hiring committees should therefore devise other means of assessing the quality of applicants' scholarship.

"Beauty" Bias and Affect Bias

Hiring committees should be conscious about biases that have to do with applicants' perceived physical "attractiveness." They should also be on the lookout for biases that have to do with how applicants present themselves (e.g. dress, personal affect, etc.). Such biases stem from societal narratives that are often racist, sexist, ableist, etc. Hiring authorities should interrogate discriminatory assumptions about how physical appearance correlates with (reflects) social values/constructs like "intelligence," "professionalism," and "competence." Moreover, they should understand how such assumptions reproduce structural inequity. 

Additional Resources

For valuable information on mitigating bias, please see The Potential Influence of Unconscious Bias on the Evaluation of Candidates and Examples of Bias in the Hiring Process, which are located in CU Boulder's Faculty Search Process Manual


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