Unconscious Bias: The Hidden Enemy of Recruitment and People Management

Posted 07/12/2017 : By: Stuart Buchan

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester defines unconscious bias as: “Our implicit people preferences, formed by our socialisation, our experiences, and by our exposure to others’ views about other groups of people”.

Unconscious bias occurs when individuals give preferential treatment to others who look like them and/or share similar values, for example: a person who is the same ethnicity or colour. An individual’s unconscious bias can unknowingly influence the outcome or decision of a process. This type of bias within a workplace can be dangerous because it can negatively affect internal processes, such as: recruitment, appraisals and pay reviews.

A recruiting manager might pick an individual for a job who dresses conservatively over an individual with tattoos because subconsciously they believe that an individual with tattoos is less capable of fulfilling the role. A people manager might subconsciously believe that male employees bring more value in to a business over female employees, this belief might lead to a difference in the level of bonuses received by male and female employees. The gender equality movement is a perfect example of unconscious bias.

It is difficult to mitigate unconscious bias because it is a natural process of the brain and everyone has them. However, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of bias effecting your decisions, such as:

  • Don't rush decisions rather take your time and consider issues properly
  • Justify decisions by evidence and record the reasons for your decisions, for example during a recruitment exercise
  • Try to work with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals. This could include working with different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focus on the positive behaviour of people and not negative stereotypes
  • Employers should implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences.

If you are concerned that unconscious bias might be negatively affecting your company’s recruitment process or employee development strategy and would like more advice or training on how to avoid the pitfalls of unconscious bias, Ashtons Hr Consulting would be very willing to help you with this or any other Employment Law/Employee Relations questions.

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