Are you aware of your own prejudices?

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I would never have created a business out of providing video interviewing technology solutions if I didn’t believe it was going to solve a real recruitment problem. However, with any new technology, opinions about it’s worth or value in application run deep and debate around its place in solving ‘a’ problem of many ensues. Aside of assisting with the selection process one of my all time favourite topics that I’ll delve happily into with anyone, is the psychology of hiring and firing and how it affects the overall bottom line of business, which leads me nicely onto the subject of bias.

Many professional recruiters speak to me about their thoughts on using technology to help them do their job better. Generally the decision to use video interviewing technology is an easy one, as they realise the benefits and are absolutely certain that they will be delivering value to their hiring managers in a number of ways. They will also ultimately save time and reduce their overall costs associated with screening and assessment.

Yet still they feel apprehensive because the worry lies in what happens next. When they have confidently delivered their video short list to the hiring manager, the time will come for the manager to hit ‘play’. This is supposed to be a good and positive stage, right?  But the recruiter has understandable concerns about whether all their hard work will be scuppered almost immediately because deep down they are afraid that the manager might be biased and rather than use the technology to assist in interview shortlist creation, will primarily use it to discount candidates more quickly. I have this discussion at varying degrees with most potential clients  (not actual clients). What’s amazing about this is the very acts of predicting the bias behaviour and attitudes of the hiring manager are in themselves biased.

 

Are we all biased?

 

We are all born unbiased but as we grow up, we quickly learn to build the walls of prejudice starting with what we learn in the immediate family home, then at school, in our communities and then finally in the work place. We evaluate and judge every moment and every type of contact with other people. Why? Because the external factors that shape our upbringing, our values, our belief systems and our self-image tell us to, and without much thought from us (which is the unconscious part!). The media plays a huge part in shaping bias. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the age of the selfie… we are all making snap judgements and stereotyping, looking for fault or indeed favour in how we view the world and the people in it. It is all too easy for us to just feel a certain way about something without considering the wide variety of alternative points of view.

Bias can be handed down through generations too, making it an even stronger collective issue. If you believe you are not biased then next time you take a look in the mirror ask yourself, ‘Am I critiquing my own image now and based on whether I am having a bad or good day or simply don’t look the way I want to?’  The psyche behind becoming aware of your own biases is where the fun really starts, and once a bias has been sniffed out and observed, you will never be quite the same again. It’s a refreshing thought! Awareness of bias gives us the ability to park our prejudices to one side for a moment and not only when the job requires but as life often does, such as at the school gates, in the supermarket or when reading an article about bankers.  By the way, biases are totally normal, totally human and we all have them, and some of them are closer to home than we might think!

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Think about this too – bias is a bi-product of fear, and fear is based on the unknown and exists to protect us and continue our survival. Perhaps it seems very dramatic and unnecessary in our modern world, but as mammals our primeval instinct still serve us today for the same purpose. Being afraid of something that is not even real defies logic and doesn’t benefit anyone. If we want to evolve as human beings, there will need to be some conscious effort involved to become aware of our biases and address attitudes through education and support to be less judgemental of others. Becoming more logical and less emotional about our reactions is essential to be effective as a recruiter and hiring manager. That’s not to say we can ignore human instinct and intuition completely either, quite the contrary.

 

Unconscious bias in business

 

Business is primarily about profitability, growth and quality.  In addition, the world of business is becoming a much more dynamic and highly competitive place to be in, requiring a global mentality. Take a look at Britain; a fine example of a melting pot of cultures, values and belief systems and massively competitive. You can walk down the street in London and hear about half a dozen different languages, none of which are English. So whether a business is selling a product, service or concept can anyone really afford to exclude one or more key chunks of their market because they are biased?

We know that Airbnb can’t. Let’s take the example of the study done by Harvard Business School on Airbnb regarding racial profiling. It was uncovered through the study that Airbnb’s potential customers were being judged by the accommodation hosts based on their names alone. The result of the study points to hosts being 16% less likely to roll out the red carpet to a customer with an African-American sounding name than a customer with a ‘white’ sounding name. This still happens a lot in the recruitment industry where job applicants are discriminated against based on their name being a bit ‘foreign’ sounding or even just difficult to pronounce. What’s great is how Airbnb is addressing the issue perhaps mainly because the result is affecting their bottom line. Many companies are starting to introduce training to help employees become aware of their biases particularly around recruitment. Perhaps this article resonates with you and has made you think about some of your own biases as well as those of others you know. The emphasis has to be on businesses providing the right coaching to help staff become aware which in turn turns policy into reality. Let’s face it, we all gravitate toward people who are similar to ourselves but if we hire on this principle alone we will miss out on the many benefits of genuine diversity and inclusion.

Discrimination is not a technology or process problem, but a human problem. The only way this can be dealt with is by training and education of the impact of behaviour and bias. I realise this is not an easy route for some companies to take especially if certain biases are engrained in the psyche of a business from top to bottom, but for those like Airbnb, at least they have taken a huge step and realised the benefits of making the effort to address attitudes.

 

Skills deficiency and unconscious bias

 

In a recent article by the BBC, REC CEO, Kevin Green states that last year in the UK, there were nine reported areas of skills shortages and this year there are 43.

“In IT, coders, programmers, developers are all in short supply; there’s a shortage of doctors and nurses in the National Health Service; and we need about 20,000 more teachers in the UK,” said Green.

You can see where I am going with this. Again, there really is no use for bias in recruitment or business for that matter, let alone when skills are in short supply. The bottom line is that businesses can really benefit from a diverse workforce and encouraging the awareness of unconscious bias opens up businesses to new, fresh ideas, new angles and builds a strong company brand in competitive markets. This in turn helps to attract the best talent and of course, we are all going to be better human beings too!

What is your company doing to support you and your managers in helping to become more self-aware of your own biases and those of others and help to bring it out in the open? Bias. It’s not a dirty word, it’s a human condition and it’s how we deal with it that counts. We’d love to hear your views and thoughts on the topic and know what steps you are taking to address it in your business.

 

4 COMMENTS
  1. Bonnie Clarke 1 year ago

    Great to read this blog Christine. I feel that just opening our eyes and understanding that we are not immune to bias is the first step in being able to do something productive and positive about it. I am lucky enough to have had the chance to speak about Unconscious Bias with all the team here and we know deliver workshops to our clients to help them understand the unintended consequences of not being aware of bias when they are hiring.

    One point that I think is really important is that the culture of an organisation needs to be ready to accept different thinking, and specifically embrace the concept of diversity of thought. Otherwise those who do think differently, speak differently, act differently will be marginalised and will quickly leave, reinforcing the view that people who are different don’t fit in….. how many times have we hired people simply because we like them and they are like us! Too often.

    My final point is that I feel it is critical that we should hire people who share our team/business values and know why the business does what it does and can buy into that vision. As long as this is clear, we give oxygen to a conversation – allowing better debate and stress testing ideas which gives better solutions to problems and ultimately better business results.

    Reply
    • Christine Tautari 1 year ago

      Hi Bonnie, thanks for joining the conversation and I fully agree on all your points. You nailed it with the ‘unintended consequences’ that may happen as a result of unconscious bias. Many of us revert to working on auto-pilot and this is where important good stuff can get missed. It’s also important to look at assessment processes and ensure that there is enough being done to properly understand a candidate’s skills and background. The work that you are doing to educate your clients about awareness of unconscious bias is so important and well done for becoming market leaders in this area.

      Reply
  2. Caroline Craven 1 year ago

    Great article that is about a very real topic. I would add that acceptance of diversity and in turn different thinking is also core to achieving great results. In my opinion, a team is undoubtedly stronger and more effective when diverse. Who wants a team of clones working together? “It’s a matter of looking at individual teams and making sure they’re different perspectives, different points of view, different backgrounds,” NPR’s David Greene says. http://www.inc.com/adam-vaccaro/diversity-and-performance.html

    Reply
    • Christine 1 year ago

      Hi Caroline, thanks for your comments. I listened to #truLondon attendees discussing diversity and inclusion policies this week and it’s a real issue for sure. Turning policy into reality needs a top down approach which is often hard to manage and also difficult for people to see the bottom line impact.

      Reply

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