heuristics and bias


The following paper is brief analysis of the representativeness heuristic and the availability heuristic and how it affects our decision-making in the hiring practice of Atlantis International.

Heuristics and Bias

Atlantis International is currently interviewing for a new marketing manager.  After interviewing numerous candidates, there is one candidate that stands out from the other candidates.  However, Mr. Kent who was involved in the interview of this candidate, refused to offer the job to this candidate without giving an explanation as to his decision.  Without a concrete explanation of his decision, it seems that his refusal is emotional, rather than based on the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

Antonia Santiago, a Hispanic woman, is the most qualified candidate for this position.  Ms. Santiago has a Masters Degree in Marketing from the University of Phoenix.  For the past twenty years she has been working for Galactica International as their Marketing Manager in the pharmaceutical division. Her references, both professionally and personally, have the highest regard for her.  During her interview, she was articulate, well-spoken and professional.  She came across as an individual that knew the ins and outs of marketing pharmaceutical equipment. Based upon the foregoing, there is no logical reason for Mr. Kent’s refusal of this candidate who would be a perfect fit for this company.  Since Mr. Kent will not give a specific reason, one can only speculate that his refusal is based on the representativeness heuristic.

This heuristic can be thought of as the reflexive tendency to assess the similarity of outcomes, instances, and categories on relatively superficial features, and then to use these assessments of similarity as a basis of judgment (stereotyping). Individuals assume that like goes with like. We expect instances to look like the categories of which they are members; thus, we expect someone who is an attorney to resemble the prototypical attorney. (The Representative Bias, 2009).

Without a valid reason for his refusal of Ms. Santiago, one can only assume that he has preconceived opinions regarding the Hispanic people in general, or it might be that Mr. Kent has an opinion of Hispanic women, in particular, which is cultural bias.  It seems that Mr. Kent’s cultural bias is operating, either on a conscious level or an unconscious level.  Sometimes an individual is aware of their biases; however, they do not know or understand what the impact of their bias can affect decision-making (Cultural Bias, 2009).  However, the responsibility of Atlantis International is to hire individuals based on their resume, references, previous work performance, and the personal interview in order to avoid bias (Plous, 1993).  It is clear that Mr. Kent based his decision on emotions.

When the representativeness heuristic is relied on to make decisions, the use of similarities, categories and stereotypes creates the bias in the individual.  Most likely, Mr. Kent had a past work experience with a co-worker that was of Hispanic descent that was not pleasant and he is comparing Ms. Santiago to his past experience and cannot understand why we should offer her the position of Marketing Manager.

The availability heuristic is at work here, but not as predominately as the representativeness heuristic.  Making judgments using the availability heuristic is based on what we can remember, rather than complete data. Because we remember recent experiences or reports, then the news has a significant effect on our decisions (Changingminds.com, 2009). For example, when listening to the news or reading the newspaper about a group of Hispanics that were arrested on drug trafficking, we are more likely to remember that when we have interactions with people that are Hispanic.  It is feasible that Mr. Kent has an availability heuristic about the Hispanic people as a group that is with him at all times because we have a greater accessibility to the news.

There are both legal and ethical implications that would arise out of Mr. Kent’s decision not to offer the position to Ms. Sanchez.  First and foremost, would Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 2009). This law is strictly enforced by the EEOC.  In addition, if Ms. Sanchez decides to file a discriminatory charge against Atlantis International, and it is found that Mr. Kent was being discriminatory, the goal of the EEOC will be to put Ms. Sanchez in the same position (or nearly the same) that she would have had, if the discrimination had never occurred (EEOC, 2009).

 Seeing that Ms. Sanchez has been in the workforce for over twenty years, one can assume that she is now in her 40s. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age (EEOC, 2009).  It is the purpose of ADEA to promote employment of older persons based on their ability rather than age; to prohibit arbitrary age discrimination in employment; to help employers and workers find ways of meeting problems arising from the impact of age on employment (EEOC, 2009).

Atlantis International has a Code of Ethics that has been in place since the start of business. This Code acts as a guideline in all decisions that Atlantis International encounters on a daily basis.  The most important of this Code is that we have respect for all regardless of their race, religion, color, sex, or national origin.  Even though Mr. Kent has not given a valid reason for his refusal, one can only assume that his refusal is based on either being a woman or being of Hispanic origin and that goes against the Code of Ethics that Atlantis International adheres to.  Mr. Kent is in violation of Atlantis International’s Code of Ethics by refusing to offer the position of Marketing Manager to Ms. Sanchez.  Being ethical is being morally correct which Mr. Kent has forgotten that or his bias is too strong for him to make a rational decision. In the long run, this could cause a hardship in the hiring of individuals for Atlantis International.  In the business world, a company’s reputation can either make the business successful or not. Atlantis International has a reputation of being an equal opportunity employer, but that could be tarnished by Mr. Kent’s decision in refusing to offer Ms. Sanchez the position of Marketing Manager.

A meeting needs to be scheduled with Mr. Kent, Human Resources, and myself in order to resolve this issue.  During that meeting Ms. Sanchez’s qualifications will be discussed in great detail. Mr. Kent will be reminded of her extensive experience in marketing; her education is impeccable with a Masters Degree in Marketing, she is well-spoken, articulate, has a professional demeanor, her references are outstanding, she is very interested in this position, and that she would be a valuable asset to Atlantis International.

Mr. Kent will also be reminded of the legal implications of his decision.  Human Resources will go over Title VII which makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. In addition, Ms. Sanchez would have the right to sue if it seems that she did not get the job because of other factors and not because she was qualified.

It must also be reiterated that the hiring process of Atlantis International is the same for all individuals that apply for a position with us.  We do not discriminate against any one culture, color, religion, and sex. We base our decision on the applicant’s qualifications for the position he or she is interested in.  We are legally and ethically obligated to hire the best individual that has the qualification for the position.

Finally, it is not that unusual to have feelings about an individual that do not fit with their qualifications.  Since Mr. Kent has not given a concrete reason for his refusal of Ms. Sanchez, we must insist that he give us his reason and the rationale behind his reason.  He must be made to recognize it which then any bias on his part could then be eliminated by employing the hiring practices that were provided by Human Resources.  A second interview with Ms. Sanchez should be arranged as soon as possible with Mr. Kent and me. The focus of the second interview should be on Ms. Sanchez/s qualifications for this position.  This second interview will hopefully show Mr. Kent that Ms. Sanchez is the perfect fit for Atlantis International.

Commission, U. S. E. E. O. (2009). Title VII of the civil rights act of 1964. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm

Commission, U. E. E. O. (2009). The age discrimination in employment act of 1967. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adea.cfm

n.a. (2009). Availability heuristic. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.changingminds.org/explanations/theories/availability_heuristic.htm

n.a. (2009). Cultural bias. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclopedia/Cultural_bias/

n.a. (2009). Daily behavioral bias: The representative heuristic. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.simoleonsense.com/daily-behavioral-bias-the-representaative-heuristic/

Plous, S. (1993). The psychology of judgment and decision making. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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