WBEZ | colorblind casting http://www.wbez.org/tags/colorblind-casting Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Startups are using tech to try to fight workplace bias http://www.wbez.org/news/startups-are-using-tech-try-fight-workplace-bias-112813 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-450753631_wide-196d268ea0b2260b82aac1ad603bd0541e399523-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div>We all harbor biases &mdash; subconsciously, at least. We may automatically associate men with law enforcement work, for example, or women with children and family. In the workplace, these biases can affect managers&#39; hiring and promotion decisions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>So when Pete Sinclair, who&#39;s chief of operations at the cybersecurity firm RedSeal, realized that &mdash; like many other Silicon Valley companies &mdash; his company had very few female engineers and few employees who weren&#39;t white, Chinese or Indian, he wanted to do something about it.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I was trying to figure out, &#39;How do I expand my employment base to include those under-represented groups?&#39; Because if we do appeal to those, we&#39;ll have more candidates to hire from,&quot; he says.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Sinclair figured the company was either turning off or turning down these minorities, so he turned to another software startup called Unitive, which helps companies develop job postings that attract a range of candidates, and helps structure job interviews to focus on specific qualifications and mitigate the effect of the interviews&#39; biases.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Companies often err by using phrases like &quot;fast-paced&quot; and &quot;work hard, play hard,&quot; which telegraph &quot;mainstream male,&quot; says Unitive CEO Laura Mather. Instead, she encourages firms to use terms like &quot;support&quot; and &quot;teamwork,&quot; which tend to attract minorities, in job descriptions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Such adjustments seem to have worked for RedSeal: Sinclair says job applications shot up 30 percent, and the percentage of women among the company&#39;s three-dozen engineers has doubled.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Our last hire was a Middle Eastern woman who would&#39;ve frankly, in the past, never applied for the job much less gotten hired, just because she didn&#39;t fit the mold of people we hired,&quot; he says. &quot;And she&#39;s turned out to be one of our top team members.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Sinclair says the motivation to diversify wasn&#39;t altruism. His company competes with Facebook and Google for talent, so it had to look off the beaten path and draw from a more diverse pool.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The idea that everyone makes automatic, subconscious associations about people is not new. But recently companies &mdash; especially tech firms &mdash; have been trying to reduce the impact of such biases in the workplace.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Unitive&#39;s Mather says companies realize group-think is harmful to the bottom line.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>And research shows that &quot;getting in different perspectives into your company makes your company more innovative, more profitable, more productive,&quot; Mather says. &quot;All kinds of really great things happen when you stop making decisions based on how much you like the person&#39;s personality.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Unitive&#39;s software is based on social science research, including work by Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington who developed the seminal implicit-association test in the 1990s. It measures how easy &mdash; or difficult &mdash; it is for the test-takers to associate words like &quot;good&quot; and &quot;bad&quot; with images of Caucasians or African-Americans.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Greenwald has tested various words and race associations on himself. &quot;I produced a result that could only be described as my having relatively strong association of white with pleasant and black with unpleasant,&quot; he says. &quot;That was something I didn&#39;t know I had in my head, and that just grabbed me.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>No matter how many times Greenwald took the test, or how he tried to game it, he couldn&#39;t get rid of that result. He was disturbed, and also fascinated. Research indicates that unconscious biases tend to stay constant, he says, making them very hard to address within organizations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;People who are claiming that they can train away implicit biases,&quot; he adds, are &quot;making those claims, I think, without evidence.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>So rather than trying to get rid of bias, Greenwald and other experts advocate, instead, mitigating their effect. Companies could remove identifying information from resumes, for example, or conduct very structured job interviews where candidates are asked the same questions and scored on the same criteria.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some organizations are trying such methods.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Gap Jumpers, for example, is a startup that helps companies vet tech talent through blind auditions, which test for skills relevant to the job. That allows companies to avoid asking for a resume, which might include clues to a person&#39;s race or gender, says Heidi Walker, a spokeswoman.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Plus, Walker says, &quot;That allows the company to actually see how a candidate will approach and develop solutions on the job.&quot; And, she adds, half their applicants are women.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Still, unconscious biases can affect all sorts of workplace behavior and decision-making, so addressing it can be a challenge.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A year and a half ago, cloud-computing company VMWare started training managers to identify their own unconscious biases, then started tracking their hiring, retention and promotion of women, which make up a fifth of their workforce. They also analyzed whether biases had seeped into employee evaluations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It&#39;s been an eye-opening process, says Betsy Sutter, VMWare&#39;s chief people officer. &quot;We have more work to do. A lot more work to do.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/09/01/434896292/how-startups-are-using-tech-to-mitigate-workplace-bias?ft=nprml&amp;f=434896292" target="_blank">Code Switch</a></em></div></p> Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/startups-are-using-tech-try-fight-workplace-bias-112813 Characters of color in 'The Hunger Games' are buoys in a sea of whiteness http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2012-03-28/characters-color-hunger-games-are-buoys-sea-whiteness-97671 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-28/AP110616067838.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-28/AP110616067838.jpg" style="width: 512px; height: 341px;" title="From left, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta in 'The Hunger Games.' (AP/Lionsgate, Murray Close)"></p><p>Leaving a screening of <em>The </em><a href="http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120320/REVIEWS/120319986"><em><em>H</em>unger Games</em></a> this weekend -- a movie I found mostly fun and enjoyable -- I walked away with a singular thought: The film was unnecessarily overwhelmingly white.<br> <br> So imagine how stunned I was when I learned that the <a href="http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made">actual racial controversy</a> with the film is that it’s true to its author’s descriptions of specific characters.</p><p>It seems that some of the movie’s fans were surprised -- and, in some cases, turned off -- upon discovering that character Rue and Thresh are black, in spite of the fact that the book clearly describes them as such. Many were also annoyed that Cinna was played by Lenny Kravitz, when author Suzanne Collins had very clearly described him in <a href="http://www.racialicious.com/2011/11/15/yes-there-are-black-people-in-your-hunger-games-the-strange-case-of-rue-cinna/">a race neutral way</a>; in other words, his was a role that could technically be played by an actor of any color.<br> <br> My complaint? That <em>The Hunger Games</em> was colorblind in the casting of its heroine, Katniss Everdeen, originally described as having “straight black hair” and “olive skin,” and put the excellent blonde-haired/blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence in the role (with her hair dyed), but lacked the nerve to be color-blind in some of its other casting.<br> <br> Sure, Cinna is black now, but the opportunity was there. Why not colorblind cast more of the other tributes? We hardly get to know them in the movie so it doesn’t really matter what they look like. There’s one Asian tribute in the film...I think; [<em>spoiler alert!</em>] you can catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye in the training scenes, and he’s immediately killed. But why not some of the others? How about Latino or Middle Eastern or even just ambiguously ethnic tributes?<br> <br> But I’m annoyed about more that: Other than those characters specifically designated as “of color” in the book, the general use of non-white racial characters in <em>The Hunger Games</em>, especially in crowd scenes, is tokenistic and, frankly, insulting.<br> <br> Hear me out: The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America (more precisely: the U.S.A.). That’s a lot of geography. But that expanse is shrunk dramatically when we look at precisely what kinds of locales the novel encompasses.<br> <br> <em>The Hunger Games</em> opens up in District 12, an impoverished mining province. Director Gary Ross seems to be using Appalachia as a model. That’s fine -- there’s plenty of mining, poverty and white people in Appalachia. In fact, about 83 percent of the population is white and, according to the U.S. Census, people in Appalachia are <a href="http://www.arc.gov/research/researchreportdetails.asp?REPORT_ID=94">generally whiter </a>than the non-Appalachia population in the states that make up the region.<br> <br> So what’s my beef? Well, then, why bother to sprinkle the District 12 crowd scene with one or two singular minority faces? And the point here is singular: The minority actors stand alone, unconnected, unpartnered, as if each and every one of them is the head of a one-person household. Being so terribly few, wouldn’t they perhaps seek each other out, at the very least at a moment like the Reaping, when a child among them is chosen to be sacrificed?<br> <br> The movie then moves to the Capitol -- a gleaming futuristic city on the water. Here the population is colorfully decorated, effete, and much better off than in District 12. And yet the racial situation remains the same: The population is overwhelmingly white, with a sprinkling of individual people of color -- mostly blacks and Asians (I couldn’t pick out any Latinos), racial buoys in a sea of whiteness.<br> <br> What city in North America is this? The actual capital of the U.S., Washington D.C. is only about <a href="http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763098.html">31 percent white</a>. New York is 44.6 percent white (and 36 percent of New York is <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_New_York_City">foreign-born</a>, with the top ten contributors being the Dominican Republican, China, Jamaica, Guyana, Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and Russia). Los Angeles is 49.8 percent white, Chicago 45 percent, Houston 49 percent and Philadelphia 39 percent.<br> <br> Those are the top five cities in the U.S. -- and in each and every one of them, whites are a <em>minority</em>. In other words, it might make sense in these cities -- and perhaps in some futuristic version of one of them -- to see groups, families, couples, gaggles of kids of color. (The only kids spotlighted in the Capitol are two white kids, also a very selective rendering of what a multi-racial city would actually look like.)</p><p>In fact, in the movie’s one chance to focus on a population of color -- when we see Rue and Thresh’s District 11 -- we're introduced to a citizenry that is still majority white, though noticeably darker. Some folks on fan sites complained that it was disturbing to see the “black” district be the one that erupts in violence. I was floored that District 11 was seen that way by some viewers, given the scarcity of people of color, and even more surprised that the nature of the violence was missed entirely: District 11 is the cradle of the <em>revolution</em> in <em>The Hunger Games</em>.</p><p>The use of people of color in <em>The Hunger Games</em> is so deliberate and unnatural -- clearly a strategic integration rather than an organic result -- that it can't help but feel artificial and awkward.</p></p> Wed, 28 Mar 2012 14:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2012-03-28/characters-color-hunger-games-are-buoys-sea-whiteness-97671