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AFRL AFWiSE discuss unconscious bias, impacts on fair hiring and promotions

  • Published
  • By Donna Lindner
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - Air Force Women in Science and Engineering is a resource group comprised of mainly women from the Air Force Research Laboratory. It is a platform to network and share new ideas for the advancement, professional development and promotion of workplace diversity throughout AFRL.

The group recently hosted a virtual presentation titled “Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices” by Dr. Alice (Betsy) Grimes, member of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

AFWiSE members collaborated with AFIT’s Diversity and Inclusion working group, sharing in each other’s book discussion groups as well as attending monthly D&I meetings. The opportunity to provide unique learning and discussion opportunities and bring awareness on this important topic via a CVR Teams videoconference is a no brainer.

Grimes discussed assumptions and judgements often made when first introduced to someone. She commented that these biases are based on upbringing, life experiences, social norms and stereotypes. They may result in unconscious and quick projections about personalities, capabilities and beliefs. Grimes believes that it is imperative to recognize biases and develop strategies to avoid pitfalls.

“Awareness of unconscious bias and its potential impact is the first step in diminishing the effect and helping to ensure that individuals are evaluated fairly,” said Grimes.

Another barrier leading to bias are interview questions that may be ill suited for a particular job and more general in nature, leaving room for the interviewer’s own interpretations and judgments to cloud decisions.

Interview questions should elicit an accurate picture of the candidate’s true knowledge, experience and feelings about a given topic relevant to the job. A good tactic would be to give a realistic scenario for the job being filled and ask the candidate how they would respond to specific scenarios.

Development of an accurate job description and list of criteria for a specific job are imperative. Valid results are increased when answers are annotated at the time the applicant responds versus at the conclusion of the interview.

“We hear about promoting respect and preserving dignity in the workplace,” said Simone Koram, AFRL’s Sensors Directorate Learning Officer and AFWiSE member. “Equality and race is a sensitive topic on the radar of many minds, yet undeclared due to fear of being misunderstood or judged. Today’s leaders are seizing the opportunity to address the uprising emotions of the workforce on the issue of unfair treatment and respect for equality,” she said.

Mary Shelly, an active member of AFWiSE and the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, is part of an AFRL gender studies tiger team looking at the under-representation of women in Science Technology Engineering and Math at AFRL.

“There is a lot of interest at all levels in AFRL on how to ensure we are truly being inclusive with women and minorities,” said Shelly. “We are all dedicated members of the Air Force from a myriad of backgrounds and perspectives and need to bring our collective skills together and approach diversity and inclusion as a unified force with open hearts and minds.”

“After viewing the data gathered by our team, it is clear that when we embrace and foster diversity at the highest levels, we increase innovation critical to maintaining and accelerating our technological advantage. We must ensure that AFRL is equally respected and valued with industry when it comes to recruitment and retention, particularly with respect to women and minorities in STEM fields, she said.”

According to Shelly, if a candidate is hired, then subjected to biased judgements by co-workers, the employee may struggle for professional respect. Often assumptions are made of one’s capabilities based on gender, race, ethnicity, or personal characteristics versus their actual skills, contributions and willingness to learn.

Ultimately, a climate is created that produces underperformance, a decreased sense of belonging in one’s professional field and lack of motivation to stay on the job.

Dr. Schneata Shyne-Turner, Chief of Workforce Development and Diversity and Inclusion Center Lead and Practitioner from AFRL commented on the correlation between diversity and productivity. “Messaging to leadership should encompass the contribution that diversity provides to the mission of the organization with the blending of different gifts and talents from workforce members.”

“The dialogue continues and the appreciation for embracing a diverse workforce that influences the way we do business and deliver products is a step in the right direction,” shared Koram. “Continuing to offer mentoring, learning opportunities and open dialogue, unites a community of organizations and promotes awareness and acceptance on diversity, equity, and inclusion, all necessities of a here, now, and future Air Force…after all, we are all leaders serving a common goal!” said Koram.

About AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force and Space Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit