Accountability as a Debiasing Strategy: Testing the Effect of Racial Diversity in Employment Committees
47 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017 Last revised: 15 Jun 2018
Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the primary goal of integrating the workforce and eliminating arbitrary bias against minorities and other groups who had been historically excluded. Yet substantial research reveals that racial bias persists and continues to limit opportunities and outcomes for racial minorities in the workplace. Because these denials of opportunity result from myriad individual hiring and promotion decisions made by vast numbers of managers, finding effective strategies to reduce the impact of bias has proven challenging. Some have proposed that a sense of accountability, or “the implicit or explicit expectation that one may be called on to justify one’s beliefs, feelings, and actions to others,” can decrease bias. This Article examines the conditions under which accountability to a committee of peers reduces racial bias and discrimination.
More specifically, this Article provides the first empirical test of whether an employment committee’s racial composition influences the decision-making process. My experimental results reveal that race does in fact matter. Accountability to a racially diverse committee leads to more hiring and promotion of underrepresented minorities than does accountability to a homogeneous committee. Members of diverse committees were more likely to value diversity, acknowledge structural discrimination, and favor inclusive promotion decisions. This suggests that accountability as a debiasing strategy is more nuanced than previously theorized. If simply changing the racial composition of a committee can indeed nudge less discriminatory behavior, we can encourage these changes through voluntary organizational policies like having an NFL “Rooney Rule” for hiring committees. In addition, Title VII can be interpreted to hold employers liable under a negligence theory to encourage the types of changes that yield inclusive hires and promotions.
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