Unravelling Unconscious Bias (Part Two)

By Australasian Recruitment Company – February 4, 2021

Unravelling Unconscious Bias (Part Two)

Unravelling Unconscious Bias (Part Two)

In part two of unravelling unconscious bias, we look more specifically at different types of unconscious bias and ways to avoid them.

1. Similarity bias

Think of your own organisation. Is there a typical background that a majority of employees share? Is the majority very sports-orientated? Have the majority attended private school? Are there a significant majority of men or women?

In each case, similarity bias could be at play – where hiring managers employ who they instinctively like because they share a similar background, or where companies have had success in the past hiring people from a particular educational background and then repeat that decision-making.

How to avoid similarity bias

Firstly – as with all potential unconscious biases – become aware of the fact that it may unconsciously exist within yourself or your organisation. Secondly, think about the level of skills and qualities that would add value to your business support team, and put them ahead of any similarities you notice between you as people. Don’t discount someone because they are similar to you or are a naturally good “culture fit”, but equally don’t unconsciously favour someone just because they do have similarities to you and your background.

2. Comparison bias

Particularly common in recruitment, be careful not to exaggerate your perception of one candidate in contrast to another candidate. You may be reviewing multiple candidates’ CV’s and are working out which one may be better than another. You find a CV that looks like the “perfect-fit” for your business support role. Other CV’s are then rejected because they don’t equal the “perfect-fit” CV. Consequently, you may reject the wrong applicants, made potentially worse by the fact that the “perfect-fit CV” candidate rejects your offer in favour of a role elsewhere.

How to avoid comparison bias

Create a matrix of skills and experience you are looking for. Weight them according to relevance to the business support role you are recruiting. Seek to consider CV’s objectively, and specifically request your recruiter to provide you with CV’s that you would normally discount, but where the person may be a great fit. Think of recruitment as matching people to opportunities and not CV’s to job specifications.

3. Sector bias

We have lost count of the number of times we have been requested to find someone with experience in the same sector as the hiring company. Often this can be for wholly understandable qualitative reasons, such as roles requiring technical skills specific to an industry, but more often it is an easier and more comfortable option.

How to avoid sector bias

Wherever practicably possible, be open to and actively encourage business support applicants from sectors beyond your own. Aim to interview 50% of applicants who are outside of your sector, but have clearly transferrable skills. You will be amazed by the quality of applicant you have been missing by restricting yourself to interviewing predominantly within your own sector. The diverse nature of applicants’ sector backgrounds and knowledge will enhance and widen your team’s capabilities and thinking, bringing different perspectives to the table (you don’t know what you don’t know) and enabling better decision-making.

4. Confirmation bias

We all like to be right, and confirmation bias plays to this human instinct. We can be inclined to come to conclusions about others based on our own personal beliefs as opposed to unbiased data-driven facts. We can, for example, unwittingly infer assumptions based on people’s names, where they were brought up or where they went to school. We can overlay this thinking when we interview people, and literally seek confirmation of what we initially thought through our questioning and interpretation of their answers, thereby proving ourselves right. If you find yourself saying to yourself, “I thought / I knew you’d say that” then that can be confirmation bias at work.

How to avoid confirmation bias

Ask standard and skill-based questions to each business support applicant so that you can make more data-driven, impersonal conclusions. Every candidate will have an equal chance to stand out and you may be surprised at the applicant you eventually hire, as “they weren’t the one you thought you would hire on paper” – a great example of thinking which demonstrates that the process you have put in place to counter confirmation bias, has worked.

5. Gender bias

Fairly self-explanatory – this is the potential tendency to prefer one gender over another gender.

How to avoid gender bias

Consider blind-screening CV’s, removing any mention or aspect of gender. Set diversity hiring goals – we have seen this in many corporations, and even more so we have seen these in relation to board appointments for women. The fact that we have made such slow progress in this field suggests we have a long way to go. And always assess business support candidates based on skills.

And finally…

The good news is that we are making progress. The fact that we have unconscious bias as part of the modern lexicon has transformed our ability to discuss prejudice. It is all too easy to want to avoid topics such as bias and prejudice for fear of “making a mistake” or “revealing a prejudice”, but knowing that many of these prejudices happen unconsciously gives us the chance to talk freely and openly without fear of embarrassment or worse.

We should not be overly critical of ourselves if we are a work in progress in this area, so long as we are seeking to truly and actively progress. Inequality has every chance of being tackled more effectively in the future if we continue to have non-judgmental, sympathetic conversations in the present.


If you are a candidate looking for your next temporary or permanent business support role in London, or a client requiring assistance in recruitment please contact our team so we can help you with your search at hello@australasian.co.uk

Take care and we hope to see you soon!

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