Ethics and the Tech Industry

Examples of bias

Resume Study

A resume study showed that resumes with white sounding names were more employable than black sounding names with identical resumes.

“Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.”

Read more about the resume study from the National Bureau of Economic Research here.

Grading Study

In the German language, nouns are gendered (e.g. Schüler means male student, Schülerin means female student), and the idea of the separation of the two genders is very much an essential part of the language.

  • Physics teachers were presented with partially correct student answers, and were asked to award partial credit to the given answers.
  • Results:
    • Inexperienced teachers graded females up to 0.9 grade lower for exactly the same work
    • This effect disappeared for experienced teachers (Teachers in Switzerland with at least 10 years did not exhibit this effect).
    • Male teachers graded the same answers similarly, while female teachers discriminated girls by 0.9 on average for the same work (i.e  0.9 female students lower than male pupils for same work)
    • More details on the study and its results can be found here.

Our Class Results

After taking implicit bias test we see that most people in our class have a bias toward the traditional stereotypes. The effect of ordering for the test is very small.

Cognitive basis of bias

What is bias?

Bias occurs we are disposed to evaluate or treat some members of social groups less favorably than others on the basis of membership in that group.

Explicit Bias

Bias that is available to introspective reflection.

Implicit Bias

Bias that is not available to introspective reflection (when individuals are unaware of it).

Why Bias Occurs?

  • Some stimuli are very easy to perceive
    • We saw that last week with finding letters amongst many letter
  • We can look at all evidence and make a well informed decision but making quick decisions is more difficult to reason
  • In the modern environment this often leads us to make bad quick choices
  • Daniel Kahneman “Thinking Fast and Slow”
    • System 1: (Proposes) uses a metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality
    • System 2: (Disposes) in addition to be more deliberate and rational, it’s also lazy and it tires easily.
    • Thinking is hard and takes energy, the more we think the more energy we consume. The larger the cognitive flow, the slower the thinking.
    • Without conscious effort to think hard we use simple decision making.


Cumulative Disadvantage in Tech

EEOC (2016): “…composition of the select top ranked 75 Silicon Valley tech firms is strongly characterized by sex and race segregation…”

There are really two different problems here:

  1. Diversity = “bringing all types of people to all parts of your company”
  2. Inclusion = “involving all employees in all opportunities and activities, so everyone gets a fair chance to succeed”

Pay hierarchy

  • There is a compound effect that leads to an additional disadvantage if you are a woman and are part of a marginalized group
  • Black women in tech make 0.79 on the dollar compared to white men


What causes lack of diversity and inclusion in tech?

Problems with diversity and inclusion in the tech industry have causes at all stages of a person’s career, including:

  1. Childhood and adolescence
  2. Tertiary (higher) education
  3. Recruiting and hiring
  4. The workplace


The Pipeline Problem

Tech companies often cite the pipeline problem, but in reality there is much more to than that, and all aspect and levels of the pipeline problem can be addressed. The pipeline problem can’t be used as an excuse or cop out for tech companies to motivate why they are unable to reach better numbers revealing inclusivity and diversity. Since tech companies have the resources to affect the pipeline and address the problem from earlier on through high school and primary school reach out and through exposing young kids to diverse role models earlier on.



Sometimes when people refer to discrimination, they mean something that’s morally wrong

  • Other times, it refers to treating people differently but may not be morally fair if something about it renders it morally fair
    • Ex: Can company hire almost all women?
  • What is discrimination?
    • Direct discrimination is acting in a way that imposes an unfair relative disadvantage on the members of a social group because you have less favorable attitudes towards that group.
    • Indirect discrimination is acting in a way that imposes an unfair relative disadvantage on the members of a social group, but not because you have less favorable attitude towards them (i.e. unconscious)
    • Structural discrimination: “When the rules [and practices] of a society’s major institutions consistently produce disproportionately disadvatageous outcomes for the members of  certain salient social gorups and the production of such outcomes is unjust, then there is structural discrimination against the members of the groups in question”


The relationship between implicit bias and discrimination

  • Both explicit and implicit bias can lead to discrimination of all three types
  • Discrimination need not be the product of either implicit or explicit bias
  • Implicit bias may not necessarily be due to negative attitudes, but potentially a gut reaction
  • Discrimination due to implicit bias may be indirect


Contributed by Shantell Williams and Maria Zlatkova

About the author: Maria Zlatkova

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