A job ad that was recently posted in Dublin became a global talking point due to the statement ‘Persons with young children need not apply’. Several people commented that whilst the individual who posted this had been naïve/stupid enough to write this there are many people who may be guilty of thinking it.
We’re all biased in some way. Psychological studies have shown that approximately only 2% of our thinking is done consciously (slow, logical, analytical) leaving 98% done unconsciously (fast, instinctive and reactive). This is fine for making routine decisions, but what about when we’re making decisions involving people? Through the work we do at Mumager, we hear first-hand how biases have impacted individuals. For example, what do you think when you see someone leave the office at 4.30pm on the dot? What goes through your mind when someone says they work part-time? How can you be sure that you’re being fair? Here are some tips to help:
- Accept that you’re biased. Notice the assumptions you make about people. If you’re not sure of the biases you have – take the Harvard Implicit Association Test. It’s a free, anonymous online test run by Harvard. Of course bias isn’t just about gender, age, race or sexuality – we can be biased towards someone based on their accent, their working hours, how they dress, their education etc. Notice your reactions towards different people. Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy suggests that when we meet people we ask ourselves two key questions: ‘do I like you?’ (warmth) and ‘can I trust you?’ (competence). Our answers to both these questions dictate how we respond. If I like and trust you, chances are I’ll favour you. If I don’t like you, and don’t think you’re competent, you don’t stand a chance. Who do you favour at work? Why? Who do you turn away from? Why? How are these reactions influencing your decision making?
- Challenge yourself to identify where your biases come from. Are they fact or fiction? What’s influenced your view? Is it your upbringing, the media, or a one-off encounter that you had with someone? On average we form a first impression within 7 seconds of meeting someone. Once made, that impression can be hard to shake off and in later interactions with that person we only look for evidence that confirms our initial point of view. Instead, let’s try to look objectively at the bigger picture rather than assumptions we’ve made.
- Bullet-proof your decision making. Our brain is wired to help us make decisions quickly. Whilst that can be helpful in the short term, the impact is that we regularly make decisions unconsciously. For important decisions such as recruitment, deciding who to promote or delegate a task to, we need to think more strategically to ensure we’re being fair.
- Set criteria: what skills/attributes are you looking for? For example, is it crucial to the role that someone is office-based 5-days a week, or is that just what you’d like?
- Gather evidence: are you looking at all of the information, or just selecting the parts that fit your point of view?
- Evaluate: who do you use as a sounding board? Try seeking out people who you know will think differently to you. If you only seek advice from those who you get on really well with, chances are you may have the same biases.
- Call it out. It can be uncomfortable suggesting to a peer or someone senior that they’ve been biased. But by letting it go, nothing changes. Find a way to introduce it into conversation without pointing a finger. For example let’s say you’re making a decision about whether or not Hannah is ready for promotion. Your colleague Laura says she’s not sure as Hannah leaves the office every day at 5pm to pick up her kids. The conversation could go like this:
- Open: ‘Laura, I think our conversation has gone off track and we need to refocus before making the decision about Hannah’s promotion’
- Discuss: ‘… you mentioned that Hannah has to leave the office at 5pm every day, and you think this would be a problem. According to our original criteria, there are no boundaries for working hours, so we either have to revisit the criteria, or make sure we really focus on the things we stated. What do you think?’
- Move forward: okay, so we’re basing the promotion on the existing criteria and that Hannah’s working hours won’t affect our decision? Let’s move on’.
- Challenge your biases. The only way to shift your biases is to challenge the ‘truths’ we tell ourselves. For example, if you have a point of view about Millennials – spend some time with people of that generation and get to know them for the individuals they are. Read different newspapers. Visit different parts of town and expose yourself to different types of people. Initiate a conversation with someone you wouldn’t usually connect with.
We’re never going to get rid of our biases altogether. However by becoming aware, and more conscious in our decision making, we can be more confident that we’re being fair. After all – you could be on the receiving end of someone else’s biases about you one day!
For more information about the workshops that Mumager runs for Mums, Parents and Line Managers contact firstname.lastname@example.org