UNCONSCIOUS BIAS – FACT OF LIFE?

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I’d like to think I have a pretty good memory (although if you asked my partner, he may disagree) but I definitely have a good memory for people and faces, which I think most would agree, is a handy and necessary skill to have as a recruiter. Saying that I won’t lay claim to remembering every candidate and client I’ve met over the last 18 years. Now that would be a good memory!

I was asked recently what I thought the effects were of being biased in the workplace and if I thought ‘unconscious bias’ affects decisions in the workplace. As an employee, an employer and as a recruiter, being biased in the workplace can take the form of many things – decisions when hiring, deciding whether to register a candidate, decisions on shortlisting, deciding if someone deserves a promotion, deciding if someone deserves an internal move and decisions on retaining and moulding your team. In short, being biased can be described, quite simply as social stereotyping. Unconscious biases (unconscious decisions) occur automatically and are triggered by our brain making quick judgments (decisions) based on things we socially consider the ‘norm’ without giving us any rationale to make an alternative, or different, fair judgement.

So, going back to the question I was asked before I even thought about my answer, a candidate I placed into a 6 month Credit Control contract job around 14 years ago back in the UK sprung to mind instantly. As I said, I don’t remember everyone, so what stood out about this placement? I can tell you now, there was nothing out of the ordinary in regards to the requirements of the role, the skills required or the company itself. The reason I remember him, and it’s a reason that I shouldn’t, is because he was 72 years old when he registered with me and when I placed him. The other reason I distinctly remember him and the placement is because he was offered the job over 2 other candidates who also interviewed who were half his age (or younger). 

The thing I guess to note here is I almost didn’t put him forward – because of his age. Shocking I know. But I will never forget how happy the candidate was, how happy the client was (as he was perfect for the job and they were an equal opportunity employer) and how happy I was, for pushing past my initial bias decision and basing my decision on skill set and suitability. 

At the end of the day, in some way shape or form, we are all biased. Unfortunately, it’s a fact. Our thoughts, upbringing and experiences shape and determine who we are and how we view others around us. Discrimination is present everywhere within our society which therefore means, is highly prevalent in the workplace, which can unconsciously affect decisions when doing business and when hiring.

It’s an interesting topic that invites many opinions and views and one we should all be aware of and I guess, conscious of. What I truly learnt from that placement all those years ago, is how important it is to keep an open mind and never ‘assume’ an outcome, or someone else’s decision, just because it’s not the ‘norm’.