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Constructed Criteria: Redefining Merit to Justify Discrimination


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The study follows groups of male and female evaluators that are hiring hypothetical police chiefs and observes which genders are hiring which candidate. Male and female evaluators shifted their evaluation criteria to pick the male candidate, exhibiting deeply-rooted societal stereotypes.


While they didn’t feel they were making obviously discriminatory choices, the ambiguity in the evaluation criteria led to a discriminatory outcome because our brains use stereotypes to "fill in the blanks." Criteria used to assess merit can be defined flexibly in a manner congenial to the idiosyncratic strengths of applicants who belong to desired groups. This allows people to think that they're being fair, despite being discriminatory.


Millennials face negative stereotypes as portrayed in the media; they lack loyalty to their employer, they have a bad work ethic, they’re lazy and won’t do what they’re told. In instances where evaluation criteria is not well defined, Millennials may face the same sort of bias exhibited in this study: Shifting Criteria Bias.


Organizations of all types and sizes would benefit from creating structured interview processes to avoid biased decisions that work against equality. Companies that are small, with less-defined role expectations, are more susceptible to falling for Shifting Criteria bias that will have negative impacts on the caliber of talent hired.