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5 things that you can do right now to tackle your Unconscious Bias

6 Nov 2017

Posted by Roxanne Hobbs

Article published by Roxanne Hobbs, The Hobbs Consultancy:

There’s been enough talking about what we’re going to do to create more diversity and inclusion in our industry. It’s time to start doing. Here are The Hobbs Consultancy's 5 things that you can do RIGHT NOW.

1. Admit that you have a bias

I call this The Guardian Reader’s problem. In our industry, many of us are fairly liberal, open-minded individuals. It is actually harder to convince this demographic that they are part of the problem. We have a bias blind spot in that we recognise people have bias – but secretly believe ourselves not to be part of the problem.

Unconscious Bias is related to stereotyping. Our brains make quick judgements about people without us even realising. And stereotyping is a universal human trait. It is literally not possible to be human and not to make sure of stereotypes.

So, step one is for you to acknowledge that you have a bias. Then forgive yourself – but don’t let yourself off the hook. If you are sat in a place of shame about your bias, that is not going to lead to behavioural change. Understand your biases (you could use the Harvard Implicit Association test to get clear on where they are), accept that it is part of how our brains are wired and then work out what you’re going to do about it.

2. Use data to understand how bias is infiltrating the processes in your organisation

Data is your friend here. Data can give you evidence that some kind of bias is infiltrating the system. Look at your numbers around pay rises, bonuses, recruitment, churn, training, who you’ve put on pitches… Sort this data by gender, by age, by ethnicity. You will start to see how bias is in your system. A media agency found that more men than women were applying for their leadership course and also being accepted on to that leadership course, when there was a fairly even split in terms of the gender of who was eligible to apply. Once they’d recognised that there was bias in the system, they were able to hack the process to ensure it was fairer for all.

3. Expose yourself to the opposite of the stereotype

If, when you close your eyes and think of a leader, you automatically think of a white, male leader, then it would make sense that seeing images of leaders that aren’t white and male might help you to start overriding your bias. You could create a mood board of counter stereotypical leaders, raise awareness of women that have step-changed the tech industry or conduct a research project in to people on the autism spectrum who have created change. All of this helps to show our brain that there is another way and in turn starts to over-ride our bias.

4. Reduce the opportunities for your brain to make up stories

The famous orchestra experiment in the 1970s showed that the number of women accepted in to orchestras increased when blind auditions were held. We can emulate some of this in our recruitment – the ad industry is experimenting with blind CVs, the BBC is taking the university attended off CVs.

5. Slow down and pay attention

Finally, it is thought that there are two operating models in the brain – the automatic one and the more effortful one (Daniel Kahneman’s work is great here). It is when we rely on the automatic part of the brain that mistakes are more likely to happen, and bias is more likely to show up. Now this part of the brain has its advantages – it is quicker for instance. 

There may be times when using this part of the brain is exactly the right thing to do, however there will be other times when we could slow ourselves down and ensure we are using more rational judging criteria to make decisions.


Roxanne Hobbs
Posted by Roxanne Hobbs

Roxanne is a member of the BIMA Diversity Council and Founder of The Hobbs Consultancy. She believes that everybody should be able to bring their whole selves in to the workplace and to be valued for that. This mission started with a belief that workplaces must be able to do better at retaining female talent. And that through the retention of that female talent, workplaces would become more collaborative and inclusive places to be.

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