Mahzarin R. Banaji

Old Attitudes Die Hard

We're often asked why it's taking so long for companies to diversify their boards.  Several studies in the news hint that hidden bias may be the culprit and a leading cause for discrimination in settings like academia, business and even the courts.
 
A few weeks ago I had jury duty. Waiting to see if I'd get picked for a trial, I watched a video about the Massachusetts court system. Here's what I learned:
 
Women in Massachusetts were only permitted to serve on juries in 1950 -- a full 30 years after getting the right to vote. My liberal home state was 39th in the nation to allow women defendants to be judged by their peers. In 1975 the US Supreme Court made it the law of the land, ruling that women could not be excluded from the jury pool. In 1979, the Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court ruled that particular traits, including race and gender, could not be used to strike potential jurors. The landmark decision, Commonwealth v. Soares, is considered to mark the end of permissible gender bias in the selection of jurors in Massachusetts. [1]
 
The end of permissible bias ... there's the rub! Only 40 years ago (less than two generations) juries were comprised of white men. This 'norm' informed our social and cultural memory. It got me to wondering: Can you overcome gender bias without regulation, and if so, how long does it take? Is it a matter of years or might it take generations?
 

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