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Unconscious Bias

Updated: Feb 22, 2021


What is it?


Unconscious bias refers to how we positively or negatively favour others and make judgements based on our prior experience, our thoughts, and interpretations, however, we are not necessarily aware that we are doing it. For example, you may be drawn to someone who is from a similar background i.e. a similar education, area, skin colour and ethnicity. Unconscious bias can influence decisions in recruitment, promotion, staff development and recognition and can lead to a less diverse workforce meaning that employers can overlook talented workers. As a recruiter, we often witness unconscious bias, and it is part of our responsibility to educate both our clients and candidates.


How can you identify it?


Erik Kandel, a noble prize-winning neuroscientist once estimated that 80% to 90% of the mind works unconsciously. Also, research conducted by Jaluch identified that 67% of the British public admits to feeling uncomfortable talking to a disabled person, and 80% of employers admit to making decisions based on regional accents. No matter how unbiased you may think you are, most people and unconsciously bias to some degree and therefore automatically response to others in positive or negative ways.


You can most simply identify unconscious bias in the workplace when an individual or organisation selects or hires individuals that are most like themselves and actively avoids others. For example, in a video published by McKinsey & Company ‘Addressing Unconscious Bias’, the following examples phrases used with unconscious bias are brought to our attention: (https://youtu.be/JFW2cfzevio)

- ‘I assume you’ll want to switch to part-time’

- ‘Why don’t you sit this one out’

- ‘They can be pretty emotional sometimes’

- ‘Wow… three men (or women) on one team’

- ‘I assumed you were one of the spouses’



Furthermore, the workplace also exhibits unconscious bias in other forms such as the Halo Effect, preferring certain names and gender bias.


- The Halo Effect: Psychologist Edward Thorndike found that people who think highly of an individual in a certain way will also think the same in other ways. For example, if we think that someone is attractive, we may also think that they are charismatic and intelligent.


- Name Bias: On average, British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send (on average) 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts, according to researchers at CSI. Candidates that have less foreign-sounding names are less likely to be hired than those with ‘English’ sounding names.


- Gender: Organisations that are influenced by gender bias often miss out on the benefits of diversity and are likely to disengage the women that work for them. An example of gender bias in the workplace may be males in a team may value the opinions of their male colleagues more than those of their female colleagues.


How can you avoid unconscious bias in the workplace?

The selection process in hiring individuals is swamped in unconscious bias often through unconscious racism, ageism and sexism which continues into the retention process. Below are some tips we believe can help you to increase diversity and avoid unconscious bias in the workplace.


- Accept that we all have unconscious biases – it is all part of the parcel of being human! This is the first step to tackling it. You can make yourself more aware of your own biases through the Implicit Association Test.(https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html)


- Change your lens – be open to other groups of people who are not necessarily the same as you. Diversity can bring increased business productivity, creativity and innovative solutions!


- Name-blind recruitment – way too often are individuals discriminated against throughout the selection and hiring process simply by their names. Name-blind recruitment is not a definite solution to avoiding unconscious bias, but it does certainly remove some obstacles and aim to create a level playing field at the beginning of the recruitment process.


- Question stereotypes – If an assumption is made based on a stereotype – question it. For example, if your manager allocates you projects that require less travel because you’ve recently started a family don’t assume that you have to accept this. You can question it!


- Speak out – try to stand up for against unconscious bias in your team. For example, if you notice that a manager only assigns the exciting and challenging projects to men or just white colleagues, mention your dissatisfaction.


- Set diversity and inclusion goals – this can help ensure that progress can be made towards building a diverse team and ensure retention of a diverse workforce.


- Education – talk to friends and family. It is important that stories and experiences of unconscious bias are heard of, as this enables us to educate ourselves and others of the impacts of it.


Remember! We grow when we face challenges! We all experience some form of unconscious bias, whether we are the ones implementing it or facing it. The sooner we realise the reality that we are facing an unconscious bias, the sooner we can overcome it.



Want More?

Check out our blog page which we update regularly. We have previously gone over issues including whether to move job or not, how to overcome anxiety when you start a new job and negotiating your salary for your new job.



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