The subconscious part of our brain can process 11 million pieces of information per second. Our conscious brain can process around 40. The moment that our eyes meet a new face, our brain will make assumptions about that person’s character, ability and potential – quicker than we recognise the colour of their hair.
The assumptions that we make are based on our own experiences, upbringing and environment. This is called our unconscious bias. We all have unconscious bias, it is unintentional, instantaneous and often wrong. Our biases can have a damaging effect on the diversity of our workforce as, amongst other things, they can impair our ability to recruit objectively.
Bias in recruitment
Unconscious bias is ingrained in our DNA – we are programmed to trust and therefore be drawn towards those who look like ourselves. Anyone “different” falls into our “danger category”; this has been scientifically proven. This means that there can be significant bias in the recruitment process as interviewers are fighting against their own biology to choose the best candidate based on merit alone.
This is evidenced by a study conducted by the University of Sheffield. Three CV’s of male candidates were sent to over 3000 UK Companies advertising jobs. The CVs were identical save for the candidate names. One had a typical “White name”, one a typical “Asian name” and the third, a typical “African name”. On average, it took the “White” CV 9 applications to get an interview in comparison to 16 applications for the “Asian” and “African” CVs.
Blind is best?
An answer to tackling bias in recruitment comes from Boston as far back as 1952. The Boston Symphony Orchestra recognised that it had a predominately male composition and want to change this. It decided to start auditioning musicians behind a screen so that they could only be judged on their musical ability – not gender or appearance. Some women even removed their shoes to ensure that the clop of heels didn’t give away their identities.
Since then, lots of businesses have followed suit in order to eradicate subconscious bias from the recruitment process. Some major law firms have stopped interviewees from giving any information about which university or school they attended in order to neutralise bias towards Oxbridge and private school applicants.
Consultancy giant EY also removed academic and work experience criteria for entry level hires back in 2015. Their policy has evolved further so that now candidates are interviewed anonymously by an outsourced provider, meaning that interviewers at the final stage know nothing about the shortlisted candidates until they arrive in the interview room.
Advocates of blind recruitment say that it ensures the hiring of the best person for the role which should in itself lead to greater diversity in the workplace.
Why is diversity so important?
Businesses all have objectives. There are often multiple ways in which to achieve those objectives and some routes will be more effective than others. If your bias rules and you employ replicas of yourself, you’re likely to be stuck with a limited way of thinking and therefore may suffer from a lack of productivity, innovation and collaboration in your workforce.
Studies suggest that employees are happier in a diverse working environment. A recent poll of more than 2,000 UK employees found that only 56% of those surveyed believed that their employer was committed to improving diversity in their work place. Further research that has revealed that employees are three times more likely to leave their job when working for an employer whom they don’t believe is committed to improving diversity in their work force.
This is why diversity and inclusion should be high on employers’ agendas. The importance of overcoming unconscious bias at the recruitment stage is therefore essential to promote diversity throughout the business.
Are we going backwards?
Critics of blind recruitment say that there is so much more to candidates than their bare bones which is all that the process leaves behind. Is blind recruitment actually just accepting that we are unable to recruit without being discriminatory? Opponents say that we are placing our focus in the wrong place – we should be understanding and challenging our own unconscious bias instead of removing the ability to celebrate differences in streamlining the recruitment process to remove all demographic information.
Perhaps this is a valid argument but why can’t we do both? There is no doubt that blind recruitment can prevent an assessor from being influenced by their subconscious when a CV of someone “different” lands on their desk. 35% of UK business are currently using some form of blind recruitment in practice, so utilising this method, along with increasing our understanding of and challenging our unconscious bias can work towards ensuring that our work place becomes more inclusive and diverse.
24th January 2019