What Gender Bias Costs Us All

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When we think of discrimination, we tend to think big: A bad person has to sneer at the downtrodden and cackle about how much better they have it. That's not how any -ism we fight against works, though, and sometimes it's so small, the people with the power to change things can't even notice.

We should watch out for little instances of bias, according to researchers at Oregon State University. A new study finds that even tiny amounts of bias (in this case, gender-based) will have knock-on effects that snowball way out of proportion. While gender bias may only affect a small percentage of hires today, this still "has important financial consequences for companies that end up hiring less-qualified candidates," according to lead author Jay Hardy.

The researchers give an example, per a press release: "[A] typical Fortune 500 company that hires 8,000 new employees a year with a 1 percent gender bias effect can expect 32 additional failed hires and many more suboptimal hiring decisions, resulting in productivity losses of about $2.8 million per year." In other words, because gender bias nudged hiring managers away from a better option, the company's performance and bottom line suffer tremendously.

Ironically enough, nonbelievers in gender bias are some of the best evidence it exists. We can't ignore the role of racism in these matters either. Hiring managers, however, have a good deal of power to rectify the situation, and even being aware of a problem can help those on the ground to fix behaviors.