Thursday, 13 October 2016

What's your Bias?

By Bridie Walsh
We prefer young people – a lot. And if you don’t believe it, take the implicit association test (IAP) developed by Harvard University.
The way you get treated at work, how you are perceived and the opportunities you receive are all dependent on implicit biases. This isn’t such great news when you look at the stats. In short, Harvard has uncovered that we are biased.  Our bias means we generally prefer people who are similar to us. We also prefer people who are younger.

Why is this a problem? For starters, if we only ever employ people ‘like us’, we miss out on the benefits of diversity. Diversity brings alternative perspectives, new ideas, and fosters understanding and compassion. Research tells us that diversity is instrumental in innovation. Something every business is chasing to make sure they have a competitive edge.
The second problem is, well, we are all growing old and increasingly living longer. Many middle income earning Australians will live to one hundred. Try the Abaris life expectancy calculator to find out how long you will live.
We can expect our retirement to be as long as our working life, or, as government policy changes, our working life to be much longer than it currently is. If we bias youth, we are simply cutting ourselves out of the opportunities we deserve, are skilled for and the diversity benefits age brings to a team.
So how can we stem our own personal bias against age and other categories of diversity? Understand that it is there, and that it exists. Bias is often subconscious. Bias betrays a belief system that we often don’t own up to publicly, even to ourselves, so acknowledge it. And when you need to recruit your next staff member make conscious choices about the diversity gaps in your team, whether that be gender, race, sexuality or age – and yes, it can even include skills, sectors and specialisations.

Take action against bias

  1. Take the IAP test to know what your bias is. The implicit association test measures reaction time to capture responses to images. This gives you access to your hidden beliefs. (It also examines biases toward gender, weight, sexuality and disability.)
  2. Use a blind approach to recruitment. Remove all signifiers of gender, age and name and simply gather the cover letter and resume for selection.
  3. Take a collaborative approach to interviews. Use a diverse team on the recruitment panel to diminish prejudice. Plus the additional perspectives will provide a well-rounded consideration of the business’ needs – and who will be the best person for the job.
Hiring the next best ‘you’ isn’t going to solve your business problems. But uncovering bias and making different decisions will be the most important step you take.