What is unconscious bias and how do we challenge it?

What is unconscious bias and how do we challenge it?
Resource Management

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.

Sometimes hiring a candidate who doesn’t necessarily mirror the culture and skills of a current team can prove to be beneficial. 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. 

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About Resource Management: we provide a comprehensive range of services throughout the UK and Europe and specialise in the provision of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) and Managed Service Provider (MSP) programmes. We have been trading for almost 20 years, providing resourcing solutions to a range of blue chip clients from SME to FTSE 100 constituents.

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