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5 months ago by Libby McCaughey

"The Power of Thinking without Thinking"

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Unconscious bias is a fact of life. Everyone harbours them – and unknowingly takes them into the work place. These deeply embedded subconscious attitudes span, race, appearance, age, gender, wealth and much more.  They make mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes, conclusions made so quickly and so quietly it goes quite unnoticed.

This hidden drive stymie diversity and retention rate to even how you chose to promote or not promote. Not to mention undermine your recruiting efforts and employee development, and your organisation’s culture. Its not a new idea but has be the centre of Malcom Gladwells Blink - the influence behind this blog. And it is certainly frightening how something so primitive and uncontrollable can be so detrimental to your business.

Unconscious biases are prevalent and permeate throughout the workplace from all levels as everyone carries these prejudices but are completely unaware of them, even when they may completely believe that decimation and prejudices are wrong. They cause decisions to be made in favour of one group, decrementing others. For example, Queensland University found that blonde women’s salaries were 7% higher than women with brunette or red hair. So now we can see how something minute as the colour of someone’s hair can lead our mind to jump to conclusions. What you thought of unconscious bias before beginning this read, you now know goes much deeper than just gender and race.

Tall men may find the unconscious bias to work in their favour within the corporate world. Around 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs were all just shy of six feet tall. Let me put that into some perspective, 14.5% of men in the overall American population is six foot or taller. Even more striking is that 3.9% of the male American population is six foot two or taller! So over a third of that 14.5% is a CEO at a Fortune 500 company. Just to push on that pain, an inch in height is worth $789 per year in salary. Why do we fall for tall men?

MIT and University of Chicago sent 5,000 CVs to 1250 employers. Each employer received 4 CVs, one average candidate and one above average, one with a “typically white” name the other a “typically black” name. “Typically white” names received 50% more call backs than applicants with “typically black names”. More shockingly even though the black candidate was more skilled than the white candidate, the white candidate still received more call backs! We are currently in a skill short market, so to have your unconscious bias eliminating people from the hiring process so quickly will mean you missing out on some real talent. Can you afford that?

Google publically admitted that when it came to diversity it could be doing better. Even some of the biggest businesses have recognised they’re guilty, but at least they’re doing something about it. Google blamed the lack of diversity on unconscious bias and went on to announce its “bias-busting” initiative. It included workshops and seminars designed to identify and address unconscious bias within the work place. They also released a tape of one of their seminars that is now available to watch in YouTube. Ultimately the training made employees more comfortable in recognising unconscious bias and in calling out themselves and others for it.  Now 20% large American companies provide unconscious bias training to all employees. What are you doing to eliminate it in your office?

Here are some suggestions to reduce bias in your recruitment and hiring efforts.

  • Vet your job averts for suggestive language! Using extreme pro-masculine or pro-feminine vocabulary or requirements can deter potential candidates.  Words such as “exhaustive”, “enforcement” and “fearless” can prove more enticing for male applicants whereas, “transparent” “catalyst and “in touch with” attracted a more feminine tone.
  • Widen your net! Actively pursue diversifying your team, studies have showed a correlation between a more diverse team and increase in financial takings. Ultimately the more diverse the company the more money it was making.  
  • Script your interviews! Setting predetermined interview questions and paying attention to the setting to ensure a level playing field. Most recently a London based recruitment firm is now trailing robots to conducts its interviews.
  • Training! Follow Google and other major companies and take the time to educate your staff and address the problem instead of hiding behind it. Invest in training days. In 2018 Starbucks closed all of its stores for the day to host a mandatory training day for all employees on race awareness.
  • Be aware of the consequences! And this is why you need to be doing something about it. 6,000 black people in the state of Iowa claimed that they were victims, not to overt or deliberate discrimination but that potential employers were subconsciously favouring whites. Yes subconsciously. Well they sued for $67 million less earnings.

In an effort to reduce bias and promote inclusivity, we hope that you will take active steps with in yourselves and your business to implement strategies to support it. It would be great to hear of any active initiatives you have to take unconscious bias in the work place.