Handling Unconscious Bias That Causes Discrimination

Many organisations conduct training but do not measure its effectiveness.

Research (Gardiner Morse, 2016) has shown that these training programs largely don't change attitudes, let alone behaviours, around discrimination.

"...it is very hard to eliminate our biases, but we can design organisations to make it easier for our biased minds to get things right..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

The use of blind auditions for selecting players in major US orchestras in the 1970s resulted in a significant increase in women musicians being employed in orchestras, ie women went from being around 10% to almost 40%. Blind editions meant that selection was only on the quality of the music.

"...Bias affects everyone, regardless of their awareness and good intentions......even those of us who are committed to equality and promoting diversity fall prey to these biases..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

For example, several years ago while working in Fiji, I left my wallet (with around A$450 cash) in a taxi. It wasn't till I was back in my hotel room that I realised my wallet was missing. Owing to the nationality of the taxi driver and the industry he worked in, my immediate reaction was that I would never see my wallet and money again.

However, around half an hour later there was a knock at my hotel room door. There was the taxi driver with my wallet (including the cash). Needless to say I felt very embarrassed about my unconscious bias feeding into a stereotypical point of view. Since then I have vowed to stop stereotyping people.

"...we need behavioural designs to make it easier for our biased minds to get things right and break the link between and gut reactions and our actions..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

For selecting staff we need to be able to strip out age, gender, educational and socio-economic backgrounds, etc and focus solely on talent and experience.

You need to

"...Stop going with your gut..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

The language you use can be important. For example, in recruitment advertisements including words like 'nurturing' or 'supportive' will discourage men from applying. Likewise, if the words 'competitive' or 'assertive' are used, this will discourage female applicants.

Need to use objective measurement rather than subjective, ie play down your feelings.

Research is now also revealing that males show more confidence in their capabilities than women; women are more likely to underestimate their capabilities

"...I'm not arguing that mindsets can never change. But what we generally find is for beliefs to change, people's experiences have to change first..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

This highlights the importance of role models. For example, in one study

"...Women who were shown a picture of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel before giving a public speech did objectively better than those who were shown a picture of Bill Clinton or no picture at all..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

Thus we need to move away from the male-focused history as shown in boardrooms, hall ways, etc like paintings and photographs of male identities only. 

While most people prefer the idea of benefiting from the entire talent pool, some men view gender equality is a zero-sum game, ie women win, men lose; with increased competition from women for jobs, some men will miss out. Generally, competition is good for the economy, while protectionism is not.

To get men on side, they need to see the benefits of equality. One group relatively easy to get on side is the fathers of daughters. They

"...care more about gender equality than men without children or with only sons..."
Iris Bohnet as quoted by Gardner Morse, 2016

Rewarding office volunteerism rather than focusing on training, workshops, etc is a more effective way of reducing biased behaviours that can undermine organisational performance.


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