ERAU Researchers Examine Gender, Racial Bias in Aviation

Research paper discovers potential for bias in the hiring of women and minorities.

ERAU Ph.D. student Nadine Ragbir was the paper’s lead author.ERAU

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) researchers just published a paper demonstrating the bias faced by aspiring female and minority commercial pilots and showed consumers—and even other pilots—respond more favorably to white male pilots over female and minority pilots. It represents a scientific look at consumers’ perceptions of pilot quality based on their gender or race and could provide strong guidance to the aviation industry, especially as companies consider potential new employees. The research was published in Technology in Society. The experiment involved showing photographs of female and male pilots of various races to participants, then asking them to rate how well they thought the pilots would perform. Respondents gave higher ratings to white male pilots.

Embry-Riddle Ph.D. student Nadine Ragbir, the paper’s lead author, said the most valuable part of the research was demonstrating that implicit, or unconscious, biases exist. “While some people know they are being biased or prejudiced against an individual, others may not even know they feel that way,” she said. “Just being able to make people aware that there are unconscious biases that could influence their thoughts and actions is a step forward.”

Ragbir, who developed a childhood interest in aviation when her paratrooper uncle taught her about different kinds of aircraft, earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in HumanFactors at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus. She said the topic of the research came about through collaboration, while the authors discussed a type of software tool used in behavioral research that can reveal implicit bias based on the participants’ response times. Basically, response times are longer when implicit bias is involved, because participants are reluctant to blatantly admit to biased responses and tend to take more time to consider.

ERAU professor of Human Factors Stephen Rice said, “The aviation industry needs to be aware that this bias exists because they need to make sure their hiring process is fair to women and minorities. They need to do whatever it takes to help women and minorities overcome these societal problems.”

Other students who worked on the research, which was funded internally by the Department of Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology, included Bradley Baugh, Mattie Milner (now graduated), Madhur Gupta, Drishti Valecha, Karla Candelaria-Oquendo and John Capps.