Unconscious bias - does it really exist? | JobsforMumsMalta

Jobs for Mums July 29, 2018

A couple of days ago the Irish Times published a story titled ‘Unconscious bias’ preventing women pursuing careers as surgeons’. This article stated that while half of the total amount of graduates are female, more than 93% are male, and that the problem is no longer the conscious exclusion of female trainee surgeons but the unconscious bias that still exists when women choose to take time off work to have a child. This got us thinking. Apart from making it the JobsforMumsMalta.com mission to empower females to get back into the boardroom and encourage companies to introduce flexible working measures we should also shine a lot on another big problem that’s getting way less attention - ‘Unconscious Bias’ - is  it really keeping women out of senior roles? and can we get around it?

First of all, does unconscious bias exist?

Deeply unconscious bias includes race, gender, appearance, age, wealth and much more. It influences everything from the car you drive, the house you live in, the countries you travel to, the employee you promote over the one you don’t and even the dress you wear for an important meeting. Unconscious bias exists, it’s a reality, and it is triggered without our knowledge, and we only realise that it’s a factor when we are made aware of it.
Irrespective of our gender, we all bring unconscious biases into the workplace. To deny that any of us could make decisions free from unconscious processes running in the background of our minds is to deny the very nature of how our brains work. In fact, Google estimates that our brains typically process more than 11 million bits of information at a time, yet we can only consciously process 40. How are we handling the other 10,999,960 bits? Because unconscious bias is, by definition, occurring outside of our consciousness, building awareness is not enough. Bias cannot be eliminated, but the good news is, it can be managed. So to avoid unconscious bias, we need to be aware of it, design ways to combat it and ultimately, learn how to effectively manage it.

Spot unconscious bias in your workplace

Unconscious bias sneaks into job descriptions and interview questions. For instance, think of vacancies requesting male engineers or female nurses - sounds familiar? Alternatively, did you ever have a casual discussion with any of your colleague about what type of receptionist your company needs? Or, if a new manager is employed, do you find yourself assuming it’s a man, or are you surprised when it’s not? That assumption, that surprise, that’s unconscious bias.

It exists. Now what?

Here are a few tried and tested ideas which have the potential of decreasing unconscious bias in the workplace. Ready to give them a shot?
  • Implement gender targets and quotas to increase gender equality in leadership
  • Increase awareness through training
  • Serve reminders before making hiring decisions
  • Remove all demographic information in applicants' CVs
  • Design and enforce the use of structured interviews where all applicants are asked the same set of interview questions.

Back in 2015, the office of the UK prime minister launched an initiative to reduce bias through ‘name-blind’ recruitment ‘If you’ve got the grades, the skills and the determination this government will ensure that you can succeed’ David Sproul, Senior Partner and Chief Executive of Deloitte, had commented, ‘The introduction of name-blind recruitment processes and school and university-blind interviews will help prevent unconscious bias and ensure that job offers are made on the basis of potential – not ethnicity, gender or past personal circumstance.’ Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has piloted a similar intervention, super interesting results, check it out here

So where do we start?

A survey from Adecco revealed that a third of UK hiring managers lack training when it comes to unconscious bias so training is definitely a starting point however first, the golden question companies should ask is - Where is unconscious bias in my company and what is its impact? Next, try some of our ideas and pass the word around. If you’re still thinking that unconscious bias isn’t affecting you, take this Gender- Career test designed by Harvard here.  In the meanwhile, you can count on us, JobsforMumsMalta.com will continue to share valuable insight, statistics and interesting articles to continue to create more awareness.