Models of inequity

Sharpening the fuzzy process of bias, discrimination and inequity



Assumed audience:

People with an interest in evidence-backed interventions to improve equity, in the west generally, especially technical workplaces

Scrapbook to collect various models of how inequity on various axes arises and is maintained. Having models for this is a good idea; otherwise we need to try to guess what we can change, what we cannot, and what the tradeoffs are, using only feelings. Yet our feelings need help.

Game-theoretical models

Cailin O’Connor’s The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution (O’Connor 2019).

Hilbe’s inequality model (Hauser et al. 2019) is another (?) game theoretic model of the difficulties of coordinating in an unequal society.

Possibly related: collective action.

Cumulative disadvantage

Du, Nordell, and Joseph (2021) is a model of how gendered the promotion pathway is for non-obvious reasons:

The term glass ceiling is applied to the well-established phenomenon in which women and people of color are consistently blocked from reaching the upper-most levels of the corporate hierarchy. Focusing on gender, we present an agent-based model that explores how empirically established mechanisms of interpersonal discrimination coevolve with social norms at both the organizational (meso) and societal (macro) levels to produce this glass ceiling effect for women. Our model extends our understanding of how the glass ceiling arises, and why it can be resistant to change. We do so by synthesizing existing psychological and structural theories of discrimination into a mathematical model that quantifies explicitly how complex organizational systems can produce and maintain inequality. We discuss implications of our findings for both intervention and future empirical analyses, and provide open-source code for those wishing to adapt or extend our work.

Their model auditions various, apparently-individually-minor, points of adverse gender discrimination and finds that the overall result is large divergence between genders. This is a stylised model, but it matches my understanding of the world well.

Why am I mentioning this here? Because I think it characterises an important dynamic that is often under-addressed in workplace equity arguments and seems to be under-addressed in favour of getting sidetracked with other stuff that doesn’t necessarily help so much.

TODO: How to address cumulative disadvantage models best? Quotas, formal sponsorship, etc?

Clifton et al. (2019) promote a minimum viable version of this:

Here, we present a minimal mathematical model that reveals the relative role that bias and homophily (self-seeking) may play in the ascension of women through professional hierarchies. Unlike previous models, our novel model predicts that gender parity is not inevitable, and deliberate intervention may be required to achieve gender balance in several fields. To validate the model, we analyze a new database of gender fractionation over time for 16 professional hierarchies. The decreasing representation of women at increasing levels of power within hierarchical professions has been called the “leaky pipeline” effect, but the main cause of this phenomenon remains contentious. Using a mathematical model of gender dynamics within professional hierarchies and a new database of gender fractionation over time, we quantify the impact of the two major decision-makers in the ascension of people through hierarchies: those applying for promotion and those who grant promotion. The model is the first to demonstrate that intervention may be required to reach gender parity in some fields.

Conflict theory

Inequality between groups arises because groups can coordinate to capture more resources for themselves at the expense of another group. See conflict theory.

References

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Clauset, Aaron, Samuel Arbesman, and Daniel B. Larremore. 2015. Systematic Inequality and Hierarchy in Faculty Hiring Networks.” Science Advances 1 (1): e1400005.
Clifton, Sara M., Kaitlin Hill, Avinash J. Karamchandani, Eric A. Autry, Patrick McMahon, and Grace Sun. 2019. Mathematical Model of Gender Bias and Homophily in Professional Hierarchies.” Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science 29 (2): 023135.
Coscia, Michele, and Clara Vandeweerdt. 2022. Posts on Central Websites Need Less Originality to Be Noticed.” Scientific Reports 12 (1): 15265.
Crystal, Stephen, Dennis G Shea, and Adriana M Reyes. 2017. Cumulative Advantage, Cumulative Disadvantage, and Evolving Patterns of Late-Life Inequality.” The Gerontologist 57 (5): 910–20.
Du, Yuhao, Jessica Nordell, and Kenneth Joseph. 2021. Insidious Nonetheless: How Small Effects and Hierarchical Norms Create and Maintain Gender Disparities in Organizations.” arXiv:2110.04196 [Cs], October.
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