Getting rid of unconscious bias is no easy task, but the effects of prejudice can be eliminated with these steps.

One of the major barriers preventing women from rising through the ranks of science and technology is unconscious bias. This can be a tricky problem to deal with; after all, by definition it refers to prejudices people aren’t aware they hold. However, it is important that companies take steps to negate bias wherever possible if they want to make sure they’re hiring and promoting the best employees, regardless of gender.

The problem is more prevalent than you might think. One study found that almost a tenth of employees perceive bias at their workplace, and those who noticed it were half as likely to feel proud of working at their company and three times as likely to plan on leaving within the next year. Of course, there are plenty of subtle biases that go unnoticed but can still harm your business.

Eradicating bias from your organisation requires careful strategy. You may never be able to get rid of your employees’ unconscious prejudices – or your own – but you can get rid of their effects. Here are a few of the ways you can manage biases to prevent them from getting in the way of you hiring and promoting the best people.

Be conscious of bias

One of the first biases that gets in the way of hiring the best people is their CVs, as this is where prejudice typically starts. Studies have found a definite gender bias towards men when recruiters look through CVs, and women of colour are even more disadvantaged, with experiments showing prejudice against traditionally Muslim names and ethnic minorities having to send out 60 percent more job applications than white people in order to receive a job interview. 

While much of this bias is completely unconscious, it doesn’t prevent it from being a problem. However, being aware of it as an issue can help you to take steps to stop it impacting who you hire.

When looking through CVs, take a bit of extra time assessing applications from women and people from marginalised groups. If you feel like they wouldn’t be a good fit, ask yourself why. Is there evidence that would lead you to feel that way? Would you feel the same if the candidate was male? Asking yourself these simple questions can help you understand when your own biases come into play, and allow you to stop them before they stop you from hiring a talented candidate.

Change how you evaluate leaders

There is also a gender bias when it comes to promotions, as implicit prejudice doesn’t go away once women enter the workplace. Scientists are more likely to value male colleagues’ opinions than female colleagues’, for example, which will have an impact on who gets promoted in those organisations.

One way some companies have tried to get around this is to use leadership assessments that judge employees on the qualities necessary to reach the next level of their career. However, these are often flawed as well, favouring men over women. That doesn’t mean these assessments are useless, they just need to be altered to remove bias.

For example, making assessors back up their interpretations of these surveys with qualitative facts about the candidates can be a good strategy, as can slowing down the process to prevent snap judgements. By altering the way you choose how promotions are assigned, you can remove bias from the equation.

As mentioned above, bias may be difficult to remove from the equation entirely. However, it is entirely possible to eliminate its effects; something that is necessary for organisations who want to make sure they are hiring and promoting the best talent. You can find out more about developing female talent and making scitech more inclusive here.

 [1] When Employees Think the Boss Is Unfair, They’re More Likely to Disengage and Leave, Harvard Business Review, August 2017

[2]  The Role of Gender Stereotypes in Hiring: A Field Experiment, European Sociological Review, January 2019

[3]  Is it easier to get a job if you’re Adam or Mohamed?, BBC, February 2017

[4] New CSI research reveals high levels of job discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Britain, Centre for Social investigation, January 2019

[5]  By Whom and When Is Women’s Expertise Recognized? The Interactive Effects of Gender and Education in Science and Engineering Teams, Administrative Science Quarterly, March 2014

[6]  Gender Bias in Leader Evaluations: Merging Implicit Theories and Role Congruity Perspectives, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2013

[7]  3 Strategies to Reduce Bias in Leadership Assessments, Harvard Business Review, May 2021

Nick Ross

Author Nick Ross

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