#BreakTheBias – Celebrating International Women’s Day
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. It’s a call for gender equality, pay parity and inclusivity.
“Let’s unpack some very common unconscious biases and understand how we can consciously address them…”
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. It’s a call for gender equality, pay parity and inclusivity. It basically means – let’s be free of all bias in the workplace, in our schools, in our communities etc
In this blog, let’s focus on bias in the workplace with an emphasis on recruitment because that’s how we get into the workplace in the first place.
Unconscious bias happens to us all – we all hold unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organise social worlds by categorizing. Let’s unpack some very common unconscious biases and understand how we can consciously address them.
Affinity bias is a good one. When hiring for a ‘cultural fit’, you may gravitate towards someone you like and who you know will get along with the team as they share interests, experiences and backgrounds. In traditional male-dominated industries, women can often be subjected to affinity bias. Sometimes skill set can be overlooked if you have a ‘gut’ feel for someone, and even though they should be a cultural fit, they should also be a ‘cultural add’ with the right skills to fit the job description.
This goes hand in hand with Confirmation bias, which involves favouring information that confirms previously held beliefs. This can make you form a biased opinion on a candidate based on inconsequential attributes like their name, sex, age, where they’re from or where they went to school. This shouldn’t necessarily make them a preferred candidate and we must be conscious that we are falling into an unconscious bias trap.
Attribution bias can also sway our judgement – humans are quick to judge and falsely assume something about a person without knowing their story. For example, someone may have something unusual on their resume, or they may have unexpected behaviour during an interview and this can deem them unfit for a position. If this happens, ask further clarifying questions so they have an opportunity to share their full story before you judge.
Conformity bias is one I think we are all guilty of! It’s a majority sway – you may have some real concerns about whether a candidate is suitable for a job but the majority of the recruitment panel loves the candidate! So they sway your opinion and you may live to regret you never spoke out when you had the opportunity!
However, this is about International Women’s Day, so let’s address the elephant in the room! Gender bias in the workplace. One study found that both men and women prefer male job candidates. So much so, that in general a man is 1.5 times more likely to be hired than a woman when both are equal-performing candidates. Blind screening of applications that exclude aspects of a candidate that may reveal their assumed gender is one way to address this. Setting diversity goals within the business can also help.
At this point, let me make it clear that I have never worked in a company that has gender bias, but I know of many people who have, and it continues to be an issue in many industry groups that have typically been male dominated. I am also generalising as I have some great examples of exemplary recruitment practices and companies who have addressed holistic bias in the workplace.
Awareness is key! Understanding biases and being aware that you are falling into an unconscious bias trap is the first step to breaking the bias. As we celebrate International Women’s Day across the globe, I salute all the incredible women who have been a part of the change that continues to take us further towards equality.
Written by Kristiana Greenwood