This week, Dutch Parliament approved motions that aimed to put a brake on plans to establish a national center for knowledge about diversity and inclusion in higher education proposed by the Minister of Culture and Education. The main reason politicians cited for not agreeing with these plans was that people: ‘would be hired because of where they come from, instead of their quality’. Athena’s Angels offer an overview of scientific knowledge about diversity and inclusion showing how difficult it is to consider quality alone. Our house artist, Steen Bentall, has prepared a number of illustrations that are open for your personal use and further distribution.
The first amendment of the Dutch constitution pledges equal rights and for everyone. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or any other grounds is not permitted. This foundational principle distinguishes the Netherlands from many other countries in the world, including the United States. Concrete measures, such as being the first country in the world that legalized same-sex marriage, and having a well-functioning human rights institute further seem to attest to the national stereotype of Dutch tolerance.
While such measures help eliminate and challenge incidents of explicit bias, they do not necessarily rule out the persistence of implicit bias. Implicit bias persists because the categorization of individuals into groups, reliance on stereotypes to form quick and dirty impressions of others, and the use of group-based inferences to fill in gaps in available knowledge are indispensable characteristics of human information processing. Outlawing discrimination, or simply deciding not to be biased anymore does not change these basic information-processing mechanisms. Yet these do have far-reaching consequences for the way we raise children, educate students, for the models we have of success, for the formation of people’s ambitions and opportunities, and for the way their achievements are viewed and valued (for more information see e.g. our website or this paper on gender stereotypes).
The only way to guard against the possibility that such implicit biases lead to inequality in opportunities and outcomes afforded to people with identical qualifications, is to do research and collect data to monitor equal treatment and correct this when necessary. The knowledge center that the Minister hopes to establish, can help collect the information that is necessary to monitor whether people act in line with the law. Who could be against that?
When studies consistently reveal when and why people have difficulty evaluating quality alone – for instance, because they are distracted by irrelevant criteria and person characteristics – they offer clear guidelines on how to guard that we achieve the common ideal of assessing and rewarding quality alone.
Collecting information about relevant studies, personal experiences with ongoing bias, and good practices were important motives to start this website. The events of this week demonstrate once again how important it is to keep maintaining and consulting such resources. We urge everyone to keep sharing their research and personal stories and to keep referring policymakers to the information on this website.