Unconscious bias is a touchy subject for businesses, because it means we need to look at our ways of interviewing and assessing people. It means getting critical - really critical - about our professionalism and processes. Let’s face it, a lot of us are in denial about unconscious bias, and that’s where you can really make steps to change. Recognising that it happens means you can make a conscious effort to eradicate it.

How many times has someone walked into a room and you’ve immediately had the thought ‘I don’t like them’ or, ‘wow, they’re great’. That is unconscious bias in its simplest form.

Our feelings can influence our judgement and behaviour towards other people, something that’s said to happen within the first 10 seconds of meeting someone. We may not even be aware of these feelings, which can separate people, cause conflict situations or even hinder progression. All in all this has a detrimental effect on any business.

A good example of this could be a hiring manager’s bias, where a talented colleague is overlooked because of personal feelings, something that will ultimately have an impact on their engagement, commitment and innovation.

In short, depending on the interviewer, manager or leader involved, unconscious bias can work in someone's favour, or give them a disadvantage. This doesn’t give everyone a fair shot in an interview or promotion scenario and it certainly means that ability isn’t being considered.

So where do you begin?

At Sofology we’ve tried to eradicate unconscious bias from our recruitment procedure. It’s hard work, and ultimately everyone is human, but here are some quick steps you can take to try and prevent unconscious bias happening in your workplace.

You need to put a plan in place & focus on how to make a positive change. Firstly, figure out the fixes that will work for your business and create a “toolbox” for your interviewers, managers and leaders.

For us, we quickly understood that our Hiring Managers & People Leaders, basically anyone who makes a decision in Sofology, needed training/coaching. More importantly, we made everyone aware of unconscious bias and how they could avoid falling into the trap. Finally, we found that People Management training for Leaders in our business was absolutely necessary.  

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Now you know that using solely your judgement & feelings probably isn’t the right way to assess & make a decision, you need some tools to help you assess & offer structure & a way to check areas such as: ability, attitude, skill set, behaviours & cultural fit. Does this person fit the job description? A structured interview pack will give you all the help you need. Top tip - use scoring metrics & set a benchmark to increase fairness in your assessment.  

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Even after a competency assessment there can still be an element of bias, for good or bad. How can you sense check? Book another interview. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a big decision for both the business and a candidate to offer or accept a new opportunity.

Someone once told me, “It’s like going to view a house for the first time. You notice some cracks in the wall and a few things that make you stop and think. Then, you go for a second viewing and you look beyond these flaws and begin to fall in love with everything about it - it’s everything you ever wanted. It makes sense to make sure the fit is right for both the candidate and the company.  

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We believe in creating opportunities for all our amazingly committed colleagues to progress, giving everyone an equal chance at advancing their careers. We improved job descriptions for each and every role, whilst implementing a new “Job Family” structure. This now provides us with transparent progression routes for all of our colleagues, whilst giving our leaders the tools to complete fair assessments.  

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Moving away from recruitment, performance reviews can be a niggly area. Having that one on one with your Manager, in some examples, that Manager has the chance to have an unconscious bias towards a colleague and may affect the outcome to that review. To help all Managers in having a well rounded and holistic view of their colleagues performance, removing unconscious judgement, we have implemented 360 feedback as part of our performance review process.  

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How do you know it’s all working?

Seeing a reduction in grievances raised, typically around unfair treatment is a good start. You might also see areas of your Colleague Surveys results increase; like questions on ‘treating people fairly’, ‘feeling safe to speak up’, or ‘opportunities to progress’. One of our favourite success measures is seeing our labour turnover continue to decrease.

Trying to eradicate unconscious bias in our hiring and promotion processes is just one of many milestones in our ED&I Strategy, with the ultimate aim of creating an exciting and inclusive workplace.