Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cognitive Biases & Sexual Harassment: Another Angle

Last week, I wrote that sexual harassment training won't work because it doesn't include training in cognitive biases, which affect how sexual harassment is perceived.  (here)  Cognitive biases also affect other aspects of sexual harassment prevention.

Yesterday, Wired published an article, entitled Many Startup Founders Doubt Extent of Sexual Harassment by Erin Griffith.  The article states, " a new survey conducted by venture firm First Round Capital suggests that startup founders still have a long way to go when it comes to acknowledging and addressing the problem. The survey polled more than 800 startup founders, 17 percent of whom identified as female. According to the survey, more than half of startup founders have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A full 78 percent of the women surveyed answered yes to the question."  "Yet 19 percent of respondents said the problem of sexual harassment in tech has been overblown by the media; men were four times more likely to say this than women."

Why have many in the tech industry failed to take sexual harassment seriously?  Cognitive biases.  Three cognitive biases are at work here.  First, under ethical (or moral) blindness, the tech bosses have failed to see the sexual harassment problem.  Second, under the overconfidence effect, they think that they can avoid sexual harassment problems at their firms, even if other companies have problems.  Finally, under the halo effect where people judge an individual based on a dominant characteristic such as looks, the bosses fail to see that their smartest employees might have character flaws.

Cognitive biases explain many of the problems with preventing sexual harassment.  The only way to significantly decrease sexual harassment in the workplace is training in cognitive biases.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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