Online Course Bias, Assigning Work Fairly & National Geographic

Race and Gender Bias in Online Courses, by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed

In a new study à la the Lakisha and Jamal studies, researchers made fake student accounts with different race- and gender-identifying names on a popular online learning platform. They wanted to know how online instructors responded to students’ comments on course discussion boards. They found that, across disciplines, instructors responded to 7% of all students’ comments, but 12% of white male students’ comments. The study reads, “Simply attaching a name that connotes a specific race and gender to a discussion forum post changes the likelihood that an instructor will respond to that post.” The study is a promising start to analyzing bias in online learning, but the researchers acknowledge they don’t yet know how instructors respond to ambiguous names or how low response rates impact students. Still, the study casts significant doubt on the myth that the relative anonymity of online learning makes it a meritocracy. As these kind of studies show again and again, a name alone is enough to invite bias.

For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly, by Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup of the Harvard Business Review

New research suggests that one reason why companies struggle to diversify their workforce may be because of the different kinds of work people are assigned. Assignments like developing major projects, building teams, and representing the company is dubbed “glamour work,” meaning it “gets you noticed by higher-ups, gives you the opportunity to stretch your skills with a new challenge, and can lead to your next promotion.” The problem is, glamour work typically gets assigned to white men. Meanwhile, “office housework”—such as administrative tasks, emotional labor, and managing everyday processes—most often goes to women and people of color due to stereotypes, social pressures, and biases about competence and commitment. These assignments are “usually not tied to revenue goals, so they are far less likely to result in a promotion.” There are a number of ways to combat these tendencies in the workplace, which include establishing a rotating system for mundane tasks and strategically considering “all eligible employees” for glamour-work assignments.

‘National Geographic’ Reckons With Its Past: ‘For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist,’ by Laurel Wamsley of NPR

In light of National Geographic’s upcoming issue on race, editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg asked University of Virginia professor John Edwin Mason to delve into the magazine’s archives to better understand its history—which turned out to be mired in racism. “National Geographic did little to push its readers beyond the stereotypes ingrained in white American culture…[it] should not do an issue on race without understanding its own complicity in shaping understandings of race and racial hierarchy,” Goldberg writes of Mason’s findings, which reveal “a number of problematic themes.” Not only were Black and Brown communities constantly depicted as more “primitive,” “backwards,” and “generally unchanging” than the Western world, but the magazine chose to publish stereotyped images of people of color instead of their actual voices or “unpleasant” news like war or famine. Women of color were also typically photographed topless. To stop this racist legacy from continuing, Professor Mason recommends that National Geographic turn to diverse contributors with global perspectives in the future.

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