Hidden biases in your workplace

Bias influence on candidate selection and promotions

Humans are hardwired to make a multitude of instant decisions every day. Most of the time we make these decisions subconsciously, without even acknowledging them. Our brains have a tendency to continuously learn new information, categorise and connect it with old ideas and experiences, resulting in unconscious biases. The way we perceive our reality is largely affected by these biases. As a result, we form the belief, unconsciously, that some ideas, things, or people are better than others.

In an ideal world, our decisions would be pragmatic, objective and free from any subjective bias, whether in work or just life in general; but we are not in an ideal world and as much as we try to remain fair, our judgment often becomes clouded, resulting in poor decision making. Organisations and workplaces are not immune to implicit bias and that can easily affect the decisions, judgments and attitudes of people. Companies often pride themselves on their diversity and fairness, but unconscious bias creates a huge setback in building an inclusive workplace. Managers are not immune and their internal biases can have a detrimental effect on recruitment, promotions and mentoring, as well as the opportunities for their employees to develop.

The hiring and selection processes are critical for companies to flourish and support inclusion. Snap judgments based on limited information contaminate the hiring process and exert influence on limited candidate selection. Intentional or unintentional discrimination, ageism and sexism all play a much bigger role than you might think in the whole process, from the screening of CVs, to interviewing and shortlisting; then ultimately, in who ends up getting the job.

Recruiters form an opinion about candidates in the early stages of hiring, based solely on their name, resume picture, hometown, alma mater and accent. In short, these implicit associations negatively or positively affect their decisions, making the job criteria irrelevant. It is basic human nature to associate certain attributes to a group of people and automatically jump to a conclusion; suffice to say when we hear the words “twinkle twinkle”, we instantly think, “little star”. This is how our minds work!

The tendency to look for information about a candidate that confirms our beliefs, while ignoring the evidence to the contrary, is the confirmation bias that is likely to occur in first impressions. If you have a bias about a well-dressed candidate, you are likely to believe him to be a good fit for your company, while ignoring all the other details. During the interview, you will be focused on finding the information that confirms your initial bias. Similarly, another form of bias is common in recruitment; we naturally gravitate towards people who are likable and similar to us. This affinity bias happens naturally when you feel warmth towards a candidate who is from a similar town, went to the same type of school, or say, you both support the same sport, or maybe even the same team. The subjective nature of affinity bias hurts the selection process and gives room for unconscious ageism, racism and nepotism to grow as well. Companies often use the phrase “cultural fit”, which in most cases means hiring people similar to you, with similar hobbies and interests outside the workplace.

In some cases, managers and recruiters are so focused on the one thing an employee/candidate is good at that they assume he/she must be good at everything else. This halo effect influences their decisions and opinions, whilst forsaking the facts. Similarly with safety bias, where managers insist on hiring someone with a successful profile or an Ivy League school, so that they pose less risk theoretically, these biases blinker the recruiter in the candidate selection process.

Fortunately, however, science and research have already established the impact of gender diversity in business. Even living in this century, our minds are not free of gender roles and stereotypes. These culturally reinforced biases, along with ageism, are the most common in any job, whether it is for hiring, promotion or mentoring. In interviews, we judge someone’s ability based on their appearance or superficial traits, such as body weight, beauty or tattoos. It isn’t uncommon for recruiters to feel intimidated or judgmental towards someone whose face is covered in tattoos. Hence, these one-dimensional heuristics overlook the capabilities and value of people and hinder diversity.

Part of the trouble with bias is the fact that people don’t realise how they work and when they are partaking themselves. Biased hiring and communication result in linear and less diverse teams, hindering revenue, but most importantly, hiring the wrong person will lead to employee turnover, loss of money and talent. Simply put, people wouldn’t want to work in such an environment either.

You can see then that the negative impact of biases on hiring and promotion only signifies the importance to identify and remove them. Several marketing techniques and tools have been proved to be effective in removing biases, at their best within organisations, thereby achieving diversity. Most recently, AI coupled with the human factor and communications have been scientifically proven to build objective processes for hiring and workplace development.

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