Diversity in the workforce matters, there’s a lot of research to prove that diverse workplaces are more successful. We need women and those of various ethnic backgrounds especially when trying to design a product or service to represent the general population; the diverse population out there who are the buyers of your product or service.
We all make instinctive decisions, based on what ‘feels right’. Research shows that unconscious preferences (biases) play a significant part in the way we engage with others and the decisions we make about them. We all have automatic and unconscious biases, over which we have little control, no matter how unbiased we think we may be. We don’t set out to make poor decisions, it’s a question of how our brains operate and what is going on in our environment.
Bias in the workplace
To compete in a tough environment we need organisations that are people-oriented regardless of gender or ethnicity or faith. But times aren’t changing quickly enough, it seems that 40 percent of British women have faced ‘inappropriate’ questioning, compared to 12 percent of men, according to Debut a graduate recruitment app. Research earlier this year from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 70 percent of employers think women should declare they’re pregnant when applying for jobs, and one in four think it’s fair to ask interviewees if they plan to have children.
We all know that recruiters shouldn’t be asking female candidates about their plans to start a family but sometimes unconscious bias is less obvious. Research from 2004 by Judge and Cable, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, noted a perception that height correlates with success. While only 15 percent of American men are taller than six feet, more than 60 percent of corporate CEOs are over six feet tall. A 2013 Swedish study uncovered similar findings.
Recruiters need to ensure that bias, and any form of discrimination, is eradicated from the recruitment process. Unconscious bias hinders the diversity of an organisation and techniques such as using name blind application form review mean that candidates are tested on their talent not on who they are.
Take a fresh perspective
Sometimes a measure of innovation and fresh thinking are required to attract those employees who may not be obvious candidates. It’s a question of being open to new ideas and taking a new view of the environment, sometimes using non-traditional methods. It’s not always easy, as dealing with the unfamiliar takes more effort, imagination, and empathy in order to communicate effectively, to establish common ground, common interests and shared concerns.
There are some simple things that we can do to improve the quality of our decision-making:
- Seek input from others, especially those willing to play ‘devil’s advocate’ who will get you to explain your thinking to them.
- Explore the alternative meanings of data before making a decision.
- Pause before taking action particularly when decisions are made under time pressure.
- Focus on the problem to be solved, not just on the options that are obvious.
Organisations need to be aware of how biases affect talent management practices, and to appreciate the business-based benefits of diversity practices — diverse companies are more competitive, they better reflect the composition of their customer base and enhance their employer brand.