Could your hidden bias be stunting the growth of your business?

Wednesday February 26, 2020

For decades, Australian winemakers have invested heavily in designing eye-catching labels to attract attention and it works. How often have you stood in the bottle shop aisle wondering which wine to choose, only to make your decision based on the label?

For consumer items, appearance counts. But when it comes to recruiting staff, our hidden biases are not only discriminatory, they’re potentially shrinking our ability to recruit outstanding talent.

Diversity includes religious beliefs and lifestyle preferences as well as age, gender and nationality. Yet as employers, we’ll often recruit for a “particular type” of person rather than focusing on skillset.

That’s not to negate the importance of finding candidates who’ll fit your workplace culture. But it can mean we have hidden biases that lead us to choose one candidate over another based on appearance, rather than ability. This is highlighted if you‘ve ever visited a business where entire departments are filled with employees of the same gender.

Ageism in Australian workplaces

In a 2018 study on ageism in the Australian workforce, 93% of Gen Y employees reported they had been overlooked for career progression because of their age. For Baby Boomers, 83% said they felt discriminated against during interviews because of their age.  Yet how often do you hear business owners complaining that it’s hard to find experienced staff?

Interviewing behind curtains

In April 2014, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a number of international symphony orchestras found they improved the diversity of their musicians by conducting auditions behind a curtain. This simple act revealed hidden bias in their recruitment preferences.

Obviously, most businesses can’t conduct interviews behind a curtain but it does demonstrate how much appearance influences staff selection.

Blind CVs

Professional Services giant, GHD Group, noticed a significant increase in its female workforce (and their rates of internal promotion) when it began blocking candidate names and ages on CVs.

In a book titled What Works:  Gender Equality By Design,  the author highlights the different, but subtle ways, we display hidden bias. They include:

  • Hanging photos of past or current leaders who all share the same gender, age and/or heritage
  • Requesting gender information in online applications
  • Using gendered language in position descriptions, job advertisements and application forms

Coronavirus stimulating racism

It’s not just our hidden biases that can affect our recruitment decisions. Events such as the Coronavirus can unleash racist feelings and actions. We’re currently seeing this in parts of Australia at the moment.

Earlier this month, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer felt compelled to hold a press conference to crush racist attitudes towards Chinese-Australians as a result of the coronavirus. “There’s no reason for people to avoid anybody of any particular background or appearance”, he said.

Are you guilty of biased recruiting?

Recruiting a diverse workforce doesn’t mean you focus on a particular gender, heritage or age group. As the previous examples demonstrate, it will happen naturally once you become aware of the subtle messages you are giving candidates. These messages work in 2 ways:

  1. They prevent great people from applying for positions with your organisation
  2. They prevent you from “seeing” the abilities of candidates that don’t fit your perceptions

It’s natural to have bias or pre-conceived ideas but it shouldn’t influence your recruitment process. Left unchecked, your biases could be limiting the growth and capabilities of your business because they’re restricting your ability to attract highly skilled workers.

The HR Dept can help you identify any hidden biases that may be lurking in your business and then work with you to remove them.

From documenting job descriptions to advertising and recruiting new staff, we can help you find the best people for your business. Get in touch today to find out more.

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