Bias Literacy: A Review of Concepts in Research on Gender Discrimination and the U.S. Context

Bias Literacy: A Review of Concepts in Research on Gender Discrimination and the U.S. Context

Ruta Sevo, Daryl E. Chubin
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-657-5.ch002
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The chapter offers a quick digest of the evidence for discrimination, especially with reference to women in science and engineering in the U.S. It explains common terminology and lists relevant legislation and national policy initiatives. The chapter summarizes the difference between tradition and bias, conscious and unconscious discrimination, overt and covert discrimination, and personal versus institution bias. Drawing on research in psychology and social science, it summarizes core concepts including: gender schema, accumulative advantage, stereotype threat, implicit bias, glass ceiling, mommy track, occupational segregation, statistical profiling, climate study, and the value of diversity in learning. A short section lists some U.S. national and international approaches to measuring whether discrimination is occurring and how improvements are benchmarked. There is a list of major organizations working for diversity in the U.S., with links. Many of the concepts are more fully described in the recent U.S. national report Beyond bias and barriers (2007), which inspired this literacy effort.
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The idea of literacy is applied to many types of knowledge and skills. It usually refers to basic competency in a skill set (e.g., reading or writing) or a profession (e.g., computer technology). Literacy is a set of expectations for knowledge among people who share a culture -- what any insider knows.

Bias Literacy is a timely construct because many individuals and organizations are engaged in understanding the problem of discrimination in society and in the workplace, but have not anchored their thinking in reflection and research on discrimination. When – in what contexts -- do we claim that someone is discriminating and is biased? How do we arrive at that assessment?

We also believe that literacy is the first step toward action on bias. This is not an intellectual exercise. Once we understand the dynamics and impacts of discrimination, we should understand what to do, and what others are doing successfully, in order to make bias transparent where it has been hidden or unacknowledged, and to control illegal bias. We are all victims of discrimination when our society or profession or group is built on a false sense of equity.

Here, we use the enterprise of science and engineering as the social context from which to draw examples and research. We are concerned particularly with the extent to which women and minorities are treated with or without bias and discrimination in the American system of producing and employing scientists and engineers. We hope the dialog is improved by isolating the basics.

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