I was really glad to win this from NetGalley back in June because I had a hunch (and I was correct!) that this would be a good pairing with Pragya Agarwal’s “Sway”, and so it proved to be. However, this meant I had to read “Sway” first (see my review here) and that was quite a substantial book and so was this!

Jessica Nordell – “The End of Bias”

(24 June 2021 – NetGalley)

I found a hidden topography of interventions, a patchwork of scrappy, inventive organisations, researchers, and lay people rooting out discrimination through curiosity, creativity, and brute force.

As I was hoping, although this book started off with good, clear definitions of implicit or unconscious bias, this part was a lot less exhaustive than in “Sway” and we soon got into the other side of things – the way in which organisations, in the main (though these vary between kintergarten classrooms, university departments, police departments and others) have addressed and sought to reduce bias and its effects. The main biases looked at here are gender and race, with some class mixed in, too (there’s nothing on ageism or disability, for example, which “Sway” covered a little, and gender has to be assumed as being binary as there is so little research on nonbinary gender and bias at present). But the precepts and general ideas covered here are applicable in other areas, too, of course.

Nordell opens with the case of Ben Barres, a trans male professor, who discovered with his different gender a whole set of advantages and lack of discrimination – he’s even praised for his work being “better than his sister’s” when of course both sets of work were done by the same person. Of course, Nordell hastily moves to make the point that the advantages trans men can enjoy can also disappear in a moment if their trans status is discovered – she’s very careful in her assertions and also talks a in detail about how she’s identified and addressed her own biases. We move on to other experiments where having a control has allowed bias to be seen, and then look a little at how bias is formed and more about how it’s evidenced.

The main interest in the book is in the detailed case histories of organisations which have reduced bias. In all cases, and Nordell is careful to point this out, it comes down to a mixture of personal work and cultural/organisational work – so the power of diversity is only unleashed in a ‘learning’ environment where people see the differences between themselves but opt to learn from those differences, and for that to happen, the culture needs to make that possible. There’s also reference to systematic cultural change needed throughout society, and that’s perhaps the hardest to achieve.

Removing bias from everyday practices is essential but not sufficient for creating a truly inclusive environment. To foster a climate that includes all, everyday practices must be built on a foundation of learning from and valuing differences. And this environment need not be a workplace. These dynamics play a role in places where people live, worship, and learn.

Nordell ends with a call for personal, organisational and systemic change, which will benefit both those on the receiving end of bias and those who have acted with bias. She asks us to pause and examine where we’ve got the beliefs we subscribe to (like a newsletter, as she describes on branch of research as stating) and the associations we hold unconsciously (which spam us). A good, careful and powerful book that gives the examples and best practices you might be looking for.

Thank you to Granta Books for approving me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The End of Bias” was published on 23 September 2021.

I’ve read this book for Nonfiction November!