The subject of unconscious bias in the workplace made national news this month.
On April 12, an employee at a Starbucks location in Philadelphia called police on two customers who were waiting for a friend. The two men were later arrested for allegedly trespassing, even after witnesses told the police that the pair had done nothing wrong.
The incident sparked outrage and charges of racism against both the police and the Starbucks manager who called authorities.
In the aftermath, a Starbucks spokesperson told the media that the company will order its employees to undergo “unconscious bias training.”
But what is unconscious bias? And how does it affect the hiring process?
Unconscious Bias In The Workplace
Unconscious bias happens when a subject makes a quick judgment or assessment of people and situations – a judgment so quick that the subject doesn’t realize he or she is doing it.
Most people believe they only make fair and unbiased decisions. But study after study has proven that we all make these snap judgments based on our backgrounds, cultural environments, and personal experiences. And we all do so without even realizing it.
This is especially problematic when it comes to hiring.
Unconscious bias can affect how receptive hiring managers are toward certain people, how much they listen to what certain people say, and which aspects of a person they pay the most attention to. It affects who is asked to come in for an interview, how candidates are interviewed, and who is chosen for a position.
Addressing unconscious bias in hiring goes a long way toward making sure the hiring process is fair for everyone, and that all qualified candidates are given equal and thoughtful consideration for a job.
Studies of Unconscious Bias
Multiple studies have borne out the impact of unconscious bias in hiring.
A 2012 study asked staff to review applications. The applications were identical, except for the gender of the name of the applicant.
Even though the applications were identical, subjects were more likely to rate male candidates more highly than female candidates. Subjects were also more likely to want to hire the male candidates, and to give them a higher starting salary than the female candidates.
How to Fight Unconscious Bias
Here are some tips for fighting unconscious bias in the workplace. The first step is becoming aware that the problem exists. We all think this way, no matter how well-meaning we are, and we must therefore take steps to fight against these patterns of thinking.
- First, turn bias around from “unconscious” to “conscious.” Acknowledge that we all make mistakes and pre-judgments without realizing it. Only by recognizing and accepting bias can we start to address it.
- Expose yourself to “stereotype-busting” images. Many studies show that positive images of specific groups of people can combat our hidden biases. In your workplace, widely distribute stories and pictures that portray stereotype-busting images – posters, newsletters, annual reports, speaker series, and podcasts. Even something as simple as changing your screensaver to a “counter-stereotype” image (for example: a female constructio worker) can help.
- Dig deeper into how your company handles resumes. See how your company or department handles resumes. Ask hiring managers to assess resumes that are identical, except for the gender and/or the culture of the name. See if co-workers rate those resumes equally.
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