Unconscious bias – what is it and how do we challenge it?
Would you hire yourself? Chances are you probably would and answering yes to that question is a very natural thing to do. But what happens when we only hire people like ourselves? What about when we have preconceptions that limit the chances of those who are different from us – those who share different hobbies, come from different educations, different races, religions, genders? Suddenly we start to feel bad that we’d say yes to hiring people like ourselves and perhaps we should. What we certainly shouldn’t be doing is shying away from the fact that every one of us has a form of unconscious bias.
“Unconscious bias is not the same as conscious discrimination…we all have our biases. They’re the filters through which we see the world” explains Yassmin Abdel-Magied in a TED talk about diversity. Bias is an issue not just for employers and their recruitment or promotion processes but for our society as a whole. The Shire Professional Chartered Psychologists in research into unconscious bias note that we’re naturally hard-wired as humans to make snap judgements about certain people based on what information we’ve subconsciously absorbed about that group. Only when our societal unconscious biases gradually change will we see change in the workplace. For now though, it’s vital that we recognise unconscious bias and try to act upon it within business – from job adverts to interviews and all the way up to top level promotions. Only when companies will accept that unconscious bias exists can they hope its diversity will flourish as a result of fairer workplace practice.
A recent CIPD report stated that “Our decision making is much more prone to sloppy thinking and bias than we like to believe”, highlighting instances in which employers recruited new staff to fit the team and dynamic of the workplace. Whilst they advocated seeing recruitment as a science rather than an art, taking snap decisions and gut feeling about out of the process to make it fairer. Sometimes hiring a candidate who doesn’t necessarily mirror the culture and skills of a current team can prove to be beneficial, a CEB research report highlights the advantages of hiring someone who is a ‘complementary’ rather than a ‘conforming’ fit to a team.Thinking about the skills you need in the future from candidates today is a great example of effective workforce planning that we shouldn’t shy away from because of our bias to hire those similar to current employees.
So how can we combat unconscious bias in the workplace without removing the personality of the candidate in their application? How can we practically eliminate unconscious bias? We recommend the following top tips to carry out a best practice interview:
- Structure your interviews: so that each candidate has the same questions, scoring style and time spent being asked and answering questions. This means that you won’t be able to ask any questions that certain candidates may benefit from and not to others. Making a list of pre-set questions with a scoring system that everyone on the panel understands is a simple and effective way to eliminate bias in your interviews.
- Don’t ask for information that will generate a picture of the candidate before meeting them: age, gender, race or sexuality can make us jump to conclusions about how well a candidate might fit in to a role or team.
- Be aware of your bias when shortlisting for interviews: Not reading into information relating to addresses, places of education or any personal information is key to removing bias from this process. If you’re conducting blind interviews, whoever removes this information needs to be conscious that they’re not making assumptions about the applicant.
- Remember: What you’re looking for is a person with the right skills to do the job you’re advertising – everything else is superficial.
Although it’s hard to imagine for some people that unconscious bias could ever impact them negatively, it really does affect us as all. At a networking event you’re more likely to talk to and get along with a person with a similar job title, from the same school as you or who’s interested in the same sports as you - unconscious bias isn’t always about the minorities we assume it means!
It’s certainly true that societal unconscious biases we absorb from the media, our peers and colleagues can impact upon our professional opinions. This needs to change but the process is slow. We can however begin to accept it as a natural human trait, understand it, talk about it and only then can we begin to change our attitude towards tackling it as best we can.
Posted on: Tuesday 15th Sep 2015