There are so many buzzwords flying around but have you heard of unconscious bias? It’s not a buzzword, but in today’s diverse society, it is a critical issue. Unconscious biases are our unintentional people preferences, formed by our socialization and experiences, including exposure to the media. They are the result of our limited cognitive capacity; we implicitly and automatically both group and categorize people to avoid having to conduct entirely new assessments for every new person.
We unconsciously assign a positive and negative value to the categories we use and without even realizing we rely on stereotypes which are often based on images in mass media, or reputations passed on by parents, peers and other members of society. These stereotypes can be positive or negative, and they are one of the forms of our unconscious bias.
According to Nottx.com, 20% female black, Asian and minority ethnic jobseekers altered their name in applications and almost all who changed their name reported a higher level of call-backs from potential employers; and according to the CIPD 51% of HR professionals in the UK were found to be biased against overweight women – and were unaware that this was the case.
Unconscious Bias is hugely prevalent in business and when hiring and recruiting people. It is in our biological nature to gravitate toward others who are similar to us. Our unconscious bias and preference toward similarity are best embodied by the word “fit.” When you hear the word “fit” as it relates to hiring, it is essential to ask yourself: who does this person fit with, and who makes that decision?
You can take practical steps to reduce this bias, for example, if you are looking to hire someone, then ensure the wording of your job advert does not favor one group of people or another and when you read resumes, read several side by side rather than just one a time. That way you focus more on the performance and skills mentioned than on issues such as gender. You can also learn about ways to avoid discrimination by studying for an online leadership degree and learn about psychological and sociological variables associated with your behavior or in a group or organizational setting.
To try and avoid Unconscious Biases, you need to be honest with yourself about the stereotypes that affect you. For example, you may consciously think that men and women are equally effective leaders but, as a woman, you believe that men perhaps don’t have the same level of empathy and people skills as women. That subconscious bias could influence your actions so that male candidates could be excluded from specific roles or positions.
You can also find out if you have unconscious biases by doing a test such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT), created by researchers from Harvard, Virginia and Washington universities, as this measures the strength of links you make between concepts, for example, race or sexuality, and evaluation of stereotypes, such as whether those concepts are good or bad. Also, pay particular attention to your choices when you are feeling tired, rushed or stressed, as these situations tend to activate our biases.
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