Fighting Unconscious Bias from Within


WeWork, Holborn. June 6th, 2017

With Christobal Smales, top solicitior at Pemberton Greenish and Annie Auerbach, a specialist in working culture intelligence

Research shows that unconscious bias can heavily influence recruitment and promotion decisions. It is one of the major obstacles to gender equality in a workplace. So what can we do to identify this bias in our workplaces? Is it something that we might even be prone to? And what can we do to eradicate it? Our panel discussed their insights and experiences of this much misunderstood phenomenon, as well as offered some great advice on how to combat it.

Our two speakers offered very interesting perspectives on unconscious bias we can all be guilty, as well as victim, of. From Christobal’s personal experience taking her wedding ring off for an interview, to Annie’s own experience going back to work, we appreciated greatly their honesty, openness and insight.

What exactly is unconscious bias? We googled it.

“Unconscious biases are the result of our limited cognitive capacity; we implicitly and automatically both group and categorise people to avoid having to conduct completely new assessments for every new person. Unconscious biases are our unintentional people preferences, formed by our socialisation and experiences, including exposure to the media. We unconsciously assign positive and negative value to the categories we use.”

As Annie discussed, there are multiple studies that provide evidence that unconscious bias continues to infiltrate almost every decision made within businesses, from hiring decisions affected by the age and marital status, to promotions and partnership decisions. These biases start at very young ages, exacerbated by advertising promoting ideas of who boys and girls are. Sadly we weren’t surprised to hear that results from a Princeton study showed that by the age of 6 years old, girls assume that boys are more likely to be ‘really really smart’ than girls (ugh)

We learnt that unconscious bias can take varying forms. Affinity bias results in people looking for others that mirror their same qualities. When there are more CEOs called John in the FTSE 100 than there are women, this makes it difficult for women to get hired or promoted to the top. There is also Halo bias, which results in people looking for a particular attribute they consider attractive (read not great at public speaking, but went to the same school as me).

So what can companies do to fight against this?

– companies can commit to drawing up 50/50 male/female short lists when recruiting for new roles

– ensure both women and men are on hiring teams

– commit to pay equality

– measure the value people bring to a role, rather than the hours spent sitting at their desk

And what can we personally do?

– Call it out!

– Check ourselves, and the assumptions we make about peopl

– Be conscious of how we raise our kids about gender roles

We recommend everyone to fill out the Harvard unconscious bias test which can be found here – our results from this suggest we have further work to iron out our own unconscious biases!

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