Why you need to check your unconscious bias
As business leaders, we are living in a time of tremendous opportunity – sometimes we just have to open our eyes to see it. A greater number of people who in previous generations would have been shut out of many opportunities in business, as well as other fields, are now making their voices heard.
The calls for diversity and equality, which have grown louder over the past couple of decades, have meant CEOs and recruiters have had to reassess their thinking about who the “ideal candidate” may be for a role. We’ve also had to rethink who our customers are, and how we serve them best.
Business people are sometimes tempted to view concepts like diversity and equality as soft and fuzzies; nice-to-haves, but not core considerations. Not only is this an outdated mode of thinking, it also ignores the fact that you should be out there competing for the very best talent, throwing the net far and wide to attract and retain prized recruits. And the gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else, of those recruits shouldn’t matter – what should matter is what they can bring to your company.
One of the things that stops us from finding the very best talent is something called unconscious bias. This is when our judgement about an issue or person is subject to a bias we don’t consciously realise we hold. It means we make decisions that we see as objective and rational, but which are actually filtered through a subjective lens we don’t know is there.
Google has done a lot of work as a company to educate its employees about unconscious bias. From both a product development and a company culture perspective, Google views unconscious bias as being an obstacle to better results:
“These biases are shaped by our experiences and by cultural norms, and allow us to filter information and make quick decisions. We’ve evolved to trust our guts. But sometimes these mental shortcuts can lead us astray, especially when they cause us to misjudge people.”
Unconscious bias is understandable because as people we have a tendency to trust who and what we know; we construct our mental framework around our experiences and knowledge. However, we can do things to become aware of our biases and lessen their negative impacts.
In terms of recruitment, the corporate world in Australia has traditionally been the domain of older, white men. This is gradually changing as we experience the benefits that come with increased workplace diversity as a broader range of people move into management and executive roles. Women and people from non-English speaking backgrounds are bringing fresh insights to the table. We need to be able to recognise our blind spots when it comes to sexism, racism, ageism or any other form of discrimination.
It’s your responsibility as a CEO to become aware of your unconscious biases, and to start hearing the voices of the people you might not have previously heard. Because if you’re not hearing these people, your business is probably not listening to all of its customers, and you’re almost definitely not hiring the very best people you possibly could to work in your company.