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Design unconscious bias out of decision making

The latest trend in equality and diversity is an acceptance that unconscious bias exists. This is quite a major step. At the start of the 21st century it was people to be quite passionate in their denials that they could ever harboured any negative feelings towards someone else because they were different to themselves.

Now, there is an increasing acceptance of both the negative and positive aspects of unconscious bias, and that we all have our own versions of unconscious bias.

Although this is acceptance is a major leap forward we must also accept that it is realistically just a small step on what is likely to be a long journey to finding the best way that we can as both employers and individuals manage what is a natural part of everyone’s psychology.

In many ways the first focus of equality and diversity, training and education was the emotional, pushing the message that nice people don’t discriminate.

More recent approaches have focused on the economic benefits of being more accepting of different people and treating everyone the same.

Both approaches have created some success, in breaking down barriers and opening employment opportunities to minority or disadvantaged groups.

But still the issue of unconscious bias exists.

A friend of mine who works in HR in New York N.Y. and I recently conducted an informal experiment.

We were both about to conduct a recruitment exercise and agreed that we would ask the recruitment consultants that we were using to remove all the information on a candidates’ CV that related to what we call in the United Kingdom a protected characteristic and anything else like addresses that might give us an impression of the sort of person they were.

Candidates were identified during the shortlisting process by an individual number.

Although separated by the Atlantic Ocean we had similar experiences and drew similar conclusions.

Firstly, because the applications had no personal information, they also lacked personality. Reading an application was, at the start, like trying to have a conversation with someone who does not want to express their personality, somewhat hard work.

Then we became aware of how much time in the past we spend reading the personal information about the candidate and drawing conclusions about them, even though we this information has no bearing on the candidate’s ability to do the job.

It is, of course, difficult to prove, but not knowing that personal data meant, we both concluded, that we were able to make stronger short-listing decisions.

Instead of trying to control our unconscious biases we had by changing the way in which we performed the short-listing task removed any risk of us being influenced by those biases.

This is the approach that Harvard professor Iris Bohnet suggests more businesses should take in her book What Works, gender equality by design, which forms the basis of this week’s free how to guide.

In the free guide Bohnet provides an honest analysis of why some well-intended equality and diversity initiatives succeed and others fail.

Her engaging style provides intriguing insights into how clear thinking can be applied to social science to help employers create more inclusive working environments.

What will you learn in this week’s free how to guide?

  • Why “unconscious bias” is common,
  • How organizational efforts to create greater equality succeed or fail, and
  • How to make your workplace more equitable and diverse using the “DESIGN” process to create and sustain change.

You can download your copy of this week’s free guide at this link

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

During a career as a human resources and employee development professional that started in 1981 Michael Millward has worked around the world in a wide range of businesses from start-ups to major conglomerates. His industry experience includes, local and national government, manufacturing, financial services, retail, distribution, hi-tech, e-commerce.

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