Q&A with Sean Fath

Get to know more about one of ILR’s nine new faculty members.
Sean Fath is  one of ILR’s nine new faculty members for the 2020-21 academic year.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sean Fath joins the Department of Organizational Behavior where he will continue to study topics related to inequality and hierarchy in organizations and society. Fath comes to Cornell after earning his doctorate in management and organizations from Duke University this past spring. 

What is your research about?
In my research, I study social perception: the way we see and understand others and the world around us. Some of my current work focuses on the strategies people use to inform and perform evaluations of others. Specifically, I explore evaluators’ inclination to learn potentially biasing information about a target of evaluation—for instance, does a hiring manager want to know what a job candidate looks like before making a hiring decision? Does an eighth grade teacher want to hear gossip about an incoming student from their seventh grade teacher? In this work, I am interested in learning why people make bad choices about information in their decision-making—such as electing to receive information they know will have a negative effect on their decisions—and connecting these bad choices to decision bias at important organizational junctures, from hiring to performance evaluation. I study the contextual and motivational factors that shape evaluators’ preferences for different types of information, and develop and test strategies to encourage evaluators to stay “blind” to information that might bias or distort their evaluations.

How did you become interested in your field?
I have always been interested in human nature and psychology. After undergrad, I was lucky enough to be able to work with, and help facilitate the research of, various leaders in the field of organizational behavior at both Northwestern University and Columbia University. That experience made me interested in the field in general, and specifically the ways that organizational behavior scholars are able to apply insights from areas like social psychology to the actual, day-to-day experiences of people in the workplace. Finally, my Ph.D. work at Duke University helped me to home in on the areas of research in organizational behavior that especially excite me, like social perception and judgment and decision-making. 

What impact do you hope your research will have?
I hope that my research will help people making consequential, everyday decisions in organizations—such as who to hire or who to promote—go about those decisions in ways that optimize their fairness and accuracy. There are myriad ways that bias can creep into, and contaminate, our evaluations of others, and one very important factor in that equation is the choices we make about what information to use in, and what information to exclude from, those evaluations. For instance, the seemingly small choice about whether to see or be blind to a job candidate’s name when reading over their resume can have big outcomes for the way their credentials are evaluated—names often communicate other information such as race or gender—leading to unfair advantage for members of some social groups and unfair disadvantage for others. I hope that my work will inspire evaluators in the workplace to think more carefully about the information they choose to employ in their evaluations and the consequences of those choices for their own susceptibility to decision bias. 

What attracted you to the ILR School?
I was attracted to the ILR School because of the incredible group of scholars in the organizational behavior group and across the rest of the school—it’s thrilling to be joining such an amazing group of researchers who are doing such important and impactful work, and I can’t wait to pursue my research alongside, and learn from, my ILR colleagues.

What are you most excited for about your time at ILR?
I’m very excited to teach the next generation of professionals coming out of ILR! Cornell students represent the best of the best, and I look forward to helping them on their journey to positions of leadership and prominence in the workplace. I also very much look forward to collaborating with the bright and hard-working graduate students at ILR. My Ph.D. was a wonderful experience for me largely because of my amazing mentors, and I am excited to be able to pay that forward. 

Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
My wife, my dog, and my family form the core of the things that are most important to me in life. I’m also very passionate about billiards, skiing, and U.S. politics. 

What’s something people are surprised to learn about you?
People are often surprised to learn that I haven’t seen a certain “classic” movie. For instance, I only recently saw Forrest Gump for the first time, and I still haven’t gotten around to watching Titanic. I’m trying to be better about this and am open to movie suggestions!