Unconscious bias

Rethinking recruitment

Patty McCord, Netflix's former head of talent, was recently in Australia talking about overturning traditional approaches to recruitment and diversity was a key underpinning of her message.

Instead of thinking about the person we want to hire, McCord says a better approach is to think about the problem you want to solve. This approach helps us move beyond hiring the same people over and over again who are like us (called affinity bias) and become more receptive to different opinions and perspectives. It helps meet the diversity of customer needs too.

Are you really hiring the best person for the job? Rethink recruitment to access talent from diverse talent pools.  Photo: Getty Images

Are you really hiring the best person for the job? Rethink recruitment to access talent from diverse talent pools.

Photo: Getty Images

There's another reason why we think rethinking recruitment to focus on the problem needing to be solved, as McCord recommends, is important. The benefit of this approach is that it helps us avoid associations with the current incumbent.

Given that the gender of the person currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable for it, as business psychologists such as Professor Binna Kandola have shown, it's all too easy to overlook candidates from different backgrounds.

 

McCord is also well known for highlighting the risks of hiring for 'cultural fit', as she stated in Harvard Business Review earlier this year. 

'What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.’

Like McCord, we think it's important to challenge affinity bias, as well as other biases that can impact hiring such as halo effect, confirmation bias and priming. Going a step further, we recommend hiring managers understand implicit gender and cultural stereotyping that inhibits diversity in organisations.

That's why we've created workshops for hiring managers (and recruitment specialists) and a leader conversation guide called 'Recruiting Fairly and Objectively: Challenging Unconscious Bias in Recruitment'. 

In our two-hour workshops, leaders learn several ways to promote diversity and reduce bias in each stage of the recruitment process, from the decision to search internally or externally, job advertising, shortlisting, interviewing to on-boarding. 

We explain the value of de-identifying CVs, avoiding gendered language, advertising in diverse channels, clear selection criteria and consistency of process.

As many of us know, too much hiring manager discretion increases the potential for subjectivity, inconsistency and bias.

We think it's also important to include an 'inclusion competency' in job and selection criteria. This aligns with broader company efforts to promote inclusion in leadership behaviours, practices and policies.

To assess a candidate's inclusion competency, you might ask for example:

  • Have you worked with others from diverse backgrounds and with different experiences? What were the challenges and benefits of that diversity?
  • How have you handled a situation when a colleague or a direct report was not accepting of others’ background, values, or experiences?
  • Can you share examples of how you've encouraged different perspectives in your team meetings in the past?

All of these techniques offer a way to rethink recruitment more rigorously and objectively, and advance diversity and inclusion progress in organisations more generally. And that brings a range of benefits such as increased innovation, better problem solving, and access to broader talent pools.

If you'd like more information about our recruitment workshops, conversation guide, or would like to chat about your company's particular needs, please call us on 1800 571 999 or email info@diversitypartners.com.au. We'd love to hear from you.

 

Why refreshing talent management policies with a diversity and inclusion lens is important

We've been working with many clients to hard-wire diversity and inclusion in talent policies.  

We systematically review each policy to identify ways to minimise the potential for unconscious bias, attract a diverse candidate pool, and actively seek out leadership candidates with an inclusion competency.

This type of review is important because unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making. 

Unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making.

Unconscious biases in organisational processes, systems and cultures often work against creating a level, objective foundation for decision-making.

While we all like to think we recruit the ‘right person for the role’ solely on merit, the reality is that recruitment and promotion processes can lead to what we call an 'orthodoxy of talent' because of the impact of affinity bias and confirmation bias, among other types of unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias plays out in a number of ways. It's particularly challenging because this type of bias is implicit or unconscious - that is, we're often not aware of it.

And while it's important to educate leaders on ways they can personally challenge unconscious bias through leadership development programs, it's equally important to review existing policies and practices. Making these types of changes strengthens the opportunity for positive cultural change. As Harvard professor and behavioral economist Iris Bohnet explains, '...it’s easier to change your processes than your people'.

When we review policies, we often find that job descriptions capture the attention of, and funnel in, people who think and act in a particular way. Particular words stereotypically associated with men or women (for example, ‘dominant’, ‘determined’, ‘loyal’) influence who applies. As does stating that a role must be done full time rather than flexibly.

Resumes may be put aside because of experience gaps, such as taking time out of the workforce to raise a family.

The gender of the people currently doing the role will influence who is seen as most suitable.

Interviews that don’t follow a structured question template leave room for affinity bias (our preference for people like us) to creep in. And candidates who don’t conform to stereotypes will be less likely to be hired and promoted.

It’s because of these imbalances and biases, identified in many global studies, that we recommend organisations refresh talent management policies to reduce the potential for unconscious bias and actively seek diversity in talent pipelines.

We recently helped one large organisation in the infrastructure sector fine-tune its policies. While the firm has traditionally had a strong and progressive commitment to diversity, we found several opportunities to improve their policies to avoid unconscious biases narrowing their talent pool. In the case study below, we share some recommendations we made.

The upside for the organisation is that leaders are now more likely to attract talented people from diverse backgrounds, and keep them.

We found several opportunities to increase the use of inclusive language and avoid unconscious biases narrowing the talent pool.

Diversity Partners Case Study: Minimising bias in recruitment and HR processes / policies

Client industry: Infrastructure

The brief:

Analyse job descriptions, job advertisements and a wide range of people policies to identify potential areas of bias, increase the use of inclusive language, and widen the pool of potential candidates both applying for roles and successfully being hired.

The outcome:  

The review of both the job description template, as well as ‘live’ leadership roles being advertised online, identified a number of areas where bias could be reduced. Some of our findings included:

·       Inconsistent use of the job description template by recruiting managers, (which can lead to subjective hiring decisions for ‘cultural fit’ against the firm’s culture, skill and experience).

·       A heavy focus on technical capability in the majority of advertised leadership roles, without transparency on what weighting would be given to these skills over relationship or leadership skills (e.g. prerequisite, preferred or critical). This could potentially strike out good talent if hiring managers aren’t clear on the balance.

·       Only some job descriptions included an explicit mention of the company’s commitment to diversity, as well as the requirement of leaders to foster inclusion in their teams. We recommended this be added to all job descriptions, as well as mention of the firm’s commitment to a flexible working environment.

·       Wording such as ‘you’ll be required to manage a busy schedule and have to accommodate change and adjust arrangements accordingly’ was repeated in several position descriptions. This wording could deter candidates who have caring responsibilities or other out-of-work requirements from applying. Our recommendation was to modify wording to include a reference to flexible working options.

·       Several instances of gendered language in job descriptions, including terms such as ‘The role will require agility and the ability to think and perform based on competing demands and pressures’. An alternative was recommended: ‘The role will require agility in thinking to manage various elements such as timelines, budgets and stakeholder relationships’.

These are just a few of the recommendations we made to improve the use of inclusive language and reduce the potential for unconscious bias across all talent management policies.

If you’d like us to undertake a review of your policies, drawing on our learning from many recent client engagements and global best practice, please call us or email info@diversitypartners.com.au to talk through your needs. 

Intentionally inclusive: everyday actions to create more respectful and inclusive workplaces

Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.
 

The #MeToo movement has shocked many by highlighting that making harassment illegal, and having policies and training, has not actually made workplaces free from harassment, let alone genuinely inclusive. 

It turns out that introducing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies is much easier than challenging established practices. As we hear increasing allegations of ‘boys club’ work cultures and ‘lecherous’ behaviour by public figures, we often find that people have known about the behaviour for a long time, but haven’t felt able to challenge it.

Catherine A. McKinnon wrote in the New York Times last week of women alleging sexual harassment, over decades of her research, that ‘even when she was believed, nothing he did to her mattered as much as what would be done to him if his actions against her were taken seriously’. The women’s starting inequality made it hard for them to push for action and change. But, she says, right now, ‘power is paying attention’.

‘Perhaps it takes a moment like this’, as Australian journalist David Leser says, ‘for men to truly wake up.’

In workplaces, it has to be leaders – men and women – who drive greater inclusion. Beyond policy statements, it is a bigger and more challenging goal to create a psychologically safe, inclusive work environment.

How do you make your organisation a place where all employees feel they belong, can speak up about inappropriate behaviour they experience or observe, and feel valued for their unique talents and perspectives?

It doesn’t happen by accident, or through goodwill alone. Being an inclusive leader requires us to understand, and fundamentally challenge, the biases and privileges entrenched in dominant Anglo male work cultures that the #MeToo phenomenon has begun to uncover.

It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

Leaders must intentionally choose to be inclusive in how they behave and the decisions they make. If we’re not consciously inclusive, as former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said, it’s likely we’re unconsciously or unintentionally excluding people.

This matters to organisations because diversity of people, background, opinions and ideas is proven to deliver better decisions and generate breakthrough insights. It’s why so many organisations are actively committing to being more diverse and inclusive.

But it is a challenge. The reality is that all of us can find it demanding to include diverse thinking approaches, or people of different gender or from different backgrounds, in our work activities. 

When people come from differing backgrounds, or put forward a different perspective to ours, it’s often uncomfortable. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us (called affinity bias), and we like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias). 

In organisations, this plays out in a few well-worn habits. We follow what’s been called the ‘usual suspects bias’ to automatically hire or promote people who are like us, because we feel comfortable with them and trust them to get the job done. Groupthink is generated.

We wind up with ‘mirror-tocracies’, far from the meritocracies we all want, where the best skills and ideas flourish. And we can have workplaces where ‘lad cultures’, ‘pervy’ behaviours, dismissive comments, unconscious bias, and outdated stereotypes prevail.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. 

 

It’s up to all of us to challenge inappropriate behaviour and take action.

For those in leadership roles, here's some ways to practice intentionally inclusive leadership.

·     Invite feedback from peers and team members about your behaviours, so you know if people are feeling consistently included, and so you can adjust if you need to before problems potentially escalate.

·     Recognise personal biases that may impact your decision-making (remember we all have biases).

·     Make a positive effort to learn more about the experiences of people not in the ‘in-group’.

·     Actively seek out diverse views in your meetings – explicitly invite different perspectives, including from people who are usually quiet.

·     Consider where and when team meetings and social events are held, to avoid inadvertently excluding some people. For example, instead of always having team drinks in the evening, mix it up with some morning teas during the week.

·     Challenge stereotypical comments, assumptions, and language. If a woman manager is called ‘aggressive’, is that about her behaviour, or about someone thinking she should be warmer or softer because she is a woman?

·     Ask explicitly for diversity on recruitment shortlists, speaking panel representations, and in succession planning. 

·     Notice and call it out if some people are given nicknames but others aren’t. It’s an everyday way to make some people feel in and others excluded.

·     Provide flexible work options, using changing technologies, to give a more diverse team opportunities to be involved.

·     Talk with your teams about the proven benefits of diversity and an inclusive work culture (some organisations start meetings by highlighting positive examples).

For organisations, it’s also fundamental to refresh recruitment, promotion and other talent management practices that have typically privileged dominant Anglo male cultures in Australia.

Taking intentional actions to make your work environment more diverse and inclusive goes well beyond avoiding potentially costly harassment complaints. Numerous studies show the benefits include better decision-making, higher employee engagement, more innovation, and better financial performance.

What business leader wouldn’t want to achieve that?

New year, new thinking - accelerating progress on diversity

To accelerate diversity and inclusion progress in Australia and New Zealand in 2018, we think it’s important to focus on how your organisation is leveraging diversity of thinking approaches and diversity of background to improve decision-making and organisational performance.

In a recent interview, Dr Katie Spearritt spoke about ways to reduce unconscious biases in decision-making, so we gain the benefits of diversity of thought and background.

Q: Are business leaders getting more serious about diversity of thought?

We’re seeing a growing interest to apply the research on cognitive diversity in the workplace. For example, a CEO of an industry superannuation fund contacted us to explore how bias might be getting in the way of effective decision-making on his team. His team was gender balanced and culturally diverse, and he appreciated the different perspectives that brought.

The CEO wanted to go further, to identify the team's preferred thinking approaches so they could consciously bring different perspectives to decision-making as they launched new products and expanded their market.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

We’re also seeing more and more focus on the importance of diversity of thought for ethical decision-making and corporate governance. 

Groupthink and confirmation bias have contributed to some big ethical failures in history. That’s why one global resources organisation we’ve worked with explicitly advises its leaders to ‘hear from the quietest person in the room’.

 

Q: Can you share some practical things that leaders can do to encourage different thinking approaches?

Before making a key decision in a meeting, we encourage teams to reflect if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

This usually means consciously slowing down our thinking. ‘Slow thinking’ is a recognised strategy to build inclusive leadership capability, and helps us avoid the error-prone biased decisions that can come from automatic ‘fast thinking’.

Director of St James Ethics Centre, Dr Simon Longstaff, has said ‘the greatest pressure on modern leaders is the absence of time to stop and think’. That’s something we hear time and time again, and it can be helpful for leaders to remember we all have a choice to call a ‘time out’, however brief it might be.

While seeking feedback from others is essential, some leaders go further by appointing a ‘devil’s advocate’ in meetings to normalise challenge. It’s important to rotate the devil’s advocate too.

One CEO we know routinely tells colleagues that ‘you have an obligation to disagree with me’ to reduce confirmation and sunflower bias.

It’s also important to think about basic things such as where you hold meetings and who gets invited. Decision making experts emphasise the importance of hearing from people who are ‘cognitively peripheral’ – who have information that is not generally known – rather than having discussions with people who share similar knowledge. 

As you make a key decision, ask the team if they’ve considered a range of different thinking approaches and credible alternatives, as well as unconscious biases that might impact their decision-making.

That’s why we suggest using different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea. Some team members will probably be more comfortable providing an alternative view in a follow up email or direct phone call rather than in a team meeting.

HR leaders can track employee perceptions of opportunities to contribute to decision-making and speak up through annual or pulse engagement surveys – that’s a valuable contribution to business success.

Q: Do experts on diversity always get it right?

If only! For a start, we’re human so we’re prone to biases just as anyone else is.

Adapting to different thinking and learning styles is challenging for us too.

Recently a client asked us to facilitate a workshop for senior leaders in a range of locations around the world. We were reticent, as our preference is face-to-face learning to build conversations. But we decided to give it a go, asking one of our team members used to working in virtual global operating environments to help us re-design content.

We ended up with some new tools and our client reach has now extended from Melbourne to Mongolia!


 

Contact Diversity Partners at info@diversitypartners.com.au or phone us on 1800 571 999 if you'd like to talk through ways to progress diversity and inclusion in your firm this year.

To read the original interview with Peoplecorp Recruitment Specialists, please see: http://www.peoplecorp.com.au/hr-spotlight/interview-dr-katie-spearritt-ceo-diversity-partners/

New e-Learning solution helps leaders create more inclusive workplaces and challenge unconscious bias

Diversity Partners is thrilled to offer a new eLearning program, Creating Value Through Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with Learning Seat, an award winning eLearning solution provider to businesses across Asia Pacific.

The program helps leaders optimise the benefits of diversity of talent and ideas, and challenge unconscious biases in the workplace.

It’s designed for managers and leaders across all industry sectors in Australia.

Diversity Partners and Learning Seat have built an eLearning solution:   Creating Value through Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity Partners and Learning Seat have built an eLearning solution: Creating Value through Diversity and Inclusion

The program complements our popular face-to-workshops for executives and senior leaders, and is an effective way to reach large audiences across multiple locations.  It's also an opportunity to refresh the key learnings covered in our workshops - especially when managers are about to recruit, review performance or decide on annual promotions/partnerships.

The program consists of three learning bites, which can be purchased separately or together as a bundle.

Learning bite one explores the value of diversity of background (such as culture and gender) and diversity of thinking approaches, and the characteristics of an inclusive work culture.

The second learning bite builds awareness of unconscious bias, a key barrier to diversity progress in organisations. In the workplace, unconscious biases can impact our recruiting choices, how we allocate work, and key business decisions.

The eLearning solution is an effective way to reach large audiences of leaders across multiple locations.

The third learning bite includes practical strategies for tackling unconscious bias and creating a more inclusive and high-performing team culture.

On completing the learning bites in the bundle, learners should be able to confidently reflect upon – and challenge – their own thinking, decision-making processes and leadership approaches to create more inclusive workplaces.

The training is optimised for smartphone delivery and responsive across all devices – allowing users to complete their training on the go, any time.

You can find out more about the course here, with the option to sign up for a free trial.

Learning objectives

Learning Bite 1 – Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

·     Define what diversity means, and the characteristics of an inclusive work culture

·     Identify the benefits of workplace diversity and inclusion

Learning Bite 2 – Understanding and Challenging Unconscious Bias

·    Identify examples of unconscious bias in a workplace setting

·    Recognise unconscious bias occurring in a workplace setting

Learning Bite 3 – Strategies for Tackling Unconscious Bias

·    Identify different strategies for tackling unconscious bias in a workplace setting

·    List actions that you can take to become a more inclusive leader

Target audience

The content contained in this bundle is suitable for managers and leaders across all industries and sectors.

Contact us to find our more at info@diversitypartners.com.au, or go directly to the Learning Seat website link.

 

Our partner, Learning Seat, is an award-winning eLearning company based in Melbourne, Australia. Today more than 500 companies rely on Learning Seat to manage their online training and compliance, to over 700,000 learners.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you really recruiting the best person for the job? Challenging unconscious bias

We know leaders mean well when they share with us that they always hire the ‘best person for the job’.

And we know it can be unsettling when they learn that there are all sorts of hidden biases – unconscious biases – that can impact our decision-making about who is the best person for the job, among many other decisions we make everyday in business.

There’s now extensive research from the fields of business psychology and neuroscience to show we are all biased, even though we like to think that we always apply logic and reason in our decision-making. The reality is we all have these biases so ingrained we hardly notice them.

That’s why we find it useful in our consulting work to highlight a range of cognitive biases that impact decision-making and inhibit diversity progress. It’s powerful when the examples come from leaders in our workshops, particularly when they reflect on what perspectives may have been missed when making key decisions due to affinity bias, groupthink, and sunflower bias among others.

We also draw on research like the study by Yale University social psychologist, John Bargh, in which subjects primed with the concept of the 'elderly' while doing a simple task later walked more slowly when leaving the experiment than subjects in the control group who read words that were not related to the elderly.

Having bias isn’t bad – it’s natural. We naturally gravitate to people who are like us – it’s called affinity bias – particularly in social situations. We like to have our views confirmed rather than challenged (confirmation bias) and groups in the workplace have a tendency to align with the views of leaders, especially when the boss speaks up first (sunflower management).

Having bias isn’t bad - it’s natural.

But this becomes a problem in the workplace when subtle biases and stereotypes associated with different demographic groups lead us to overlook or unintentionally exclude some people and groups in the workplace.

We've compiled some practical tips for leaders to reduce the potential for unconscious bias when recruiting and ensure decision-making is genuinely fair and objective.

We've framed these tips as ‘when-then’ statements because psychologists have shown that having a specific and tangible intention plan is more likely to lead to behavioural change. Put simply, it's about creating 'instant habits' to help us reach our goals. In her 2014 HBR Spotlight article, social psychologist Heidi Grant says that if-then planning increases the likelihood of individuals reaching their goals by 300%.

By making ourselves aware of the possibility for bias, and by taking a simple action, we can reduce (and in some cases even eliminate) unconscious bias.

Our team has compiled a few tips:

When you’re preparing your job advertisement, then …

  • Proof read your role advertisements with a diversity lens to ensure the language is inclusive. It’s important that descriptions have a mix of words associated with male and female characteristics to attract a diverse talent pool. Words such as 'dominant' and 'competitive' have a masculine connotation'; words such as 'committed', 'interpersonal' have a feminine connotation.

When you’re briefing a recruiter or agency, then …

  • Share your expectation of receiving the broadest possible candidate pool. Ask recruiters to provide you with gender-balanced and culturally diverse shortlists for management roles. Explain that you would like them to focus on seeking a range of diverse skills and experience.

When you’re preparing to shortlist candidates, then …

  • Consider receiving the shortlisted CVs as 'blind CVs' with references to gender, age, disability and ethnicity removed. This will ensure you assess each candidate fairly against the requirements of the role and have a diverse mix of talent in your candidate pool.
  • Ask candidates if they have any special requirements for the interview (these may include access requirements to the interview premises, resource or support requirements).

When you’re setting up a selection panel, then …

  • Ensure you ask a diverse group of leaders to sit on the panel, including at least one male and female representative of equal decision making authority. Train those leaders to recognise unconscious biases and encourage them to provide feedback to each other.

When you’re interviewing, then …

  • Focus on the candidate’s skills, experience and knowledge.
  • Use competency-based questions that relate to the inherent role requirements and ensure everyone is assessed on the same questions.
  • Give every candidate the same amount of time so they have equal opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.
  • Appreciate benefits of diversity of thought in team make up.
  • Give adequate time to the process. Stress, time pressures, and cognitive overload can exacerbate our unconscious biases.

And a final crucial point …

  • When finalising the remuneration package, ensure there is no gender pay inequality.

If you'd like to know more about our programs to help reduce bias in decision-making, please call us on 0429 185 700 or email info@diversitypartners.com.au

 

Cognitive biases muddy our decision making. We rely too heavily on intuitive, automatic judgements, and even when we try to use reason, our logic is often lazy or flawed.
— Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne, 'Outsmart Your Own Biases', Harvard Business Review, May 2015