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How to Identify and Mitigate Unconscious Bias across the Recruitment Process

Businesses face increasing uncertainty around how to address racism, gender issues and discrimination. Failing to adequately deal with these concerns can be career and business suicide.

Understanding that unconscious bias fuels the assumptions we make about others, which lie at the heart of all discrimination gives organisations confidence to tackle the changing demands of a pandemic world.

Across the recruitment process a candidate's profile, for example their name, their education or even their profile picture has potential to influence opinion more than you may think.

We sat down with renowned speaker, consultant and author Bron Williams to discuss how the recruitment industry can cultivate healthy workplace cultures that encourage respect and drive successful growth and change.

You can also learn more through Bron’s webinar ‘How to identify and mitigate unconscious bias’ coming up on 24 August. Register here.

Tell us about yourself, your background and how you got to where you are today.

An old Chinese proverb says, “A fish is the last one to know what water is.” A fish swims, lives and breathes in water. It is part of its very being. I didn’t know I was a “fish”. Not when I responded to the Salvo email for volunteers to work on Nauru, nor when I completed my induction.

I started to think I may be a fish when I recognised the churning in my stomach as fear – fear of the asylum seekers because they were different to me. I realised I’d been swimming in the water of racism and white privilege my whole life – part of growing up in white conservative Sydney.

Now I knew about my “water” I returned to Nauru in the full-time role of Religious Liaison Officer. It became a joy for me to work in a multi-faith, multi-race team where I learned to see difference as an asset rather than a threat.

Now I use that insight to make bias conscious in the corporate environment. Through more than 30 years’ experience across the education and not-for-profit sectors, I have developed my innate ability to work with people and my capacity to see beneath the surface circumstances, analyse the drivers behind behaviour and speak to unconscious bias in a unique and compelling way.

In the work I’m doing with leaders in various sectors, I’ve proven that raising awareness around bias leads to a greater capacity for broader thinking around diversity and difference which enables leaders to make better- informed decisions.

What is unconscious bias exactly - and why should recruiters take it seriously?

Bias is the tendency to privilege a particular group of people or set of ideas to the exclusion of others.

Bias forms unconsciously in childhood and our formative years, via input from our families, culture, faith, the media and other external sources. Bias shapes how we see ourselves, other people and the world and informs the decisions that we make and the relationships we have. It informs how we treat others, who we innately show respect for and who we unconsciously dismiss.

Roger J. Davies, academic and expert in linguistics, says that “Recent research shows that unconscious bias is in play in every aspect of the modern workplace — in recruitment, retention, performance management, promotion, client relations, and the allocation of work assignments.”

This impacts recruiters when they allow external considerations, such as age, ability, race, gender or weight to influence and outweigh the experience, abilities and qualifications of an applicant.

What are some steps we can all take to start to address bias in our workplaces and communities?

Covert, or unconscious, bias is experienced by every person on the planet. It underlies all inequity in leadership, workplace culture and staff relationships. However, through proactive and considered acknowledgement of this bias we can work towards eliminating this issue.

There is a simple pathway to conscious corporate environment:

  1. Build awareness of bias – you can’t address what you don’t see.

  2. Normalise the conversation around bias – bias is simply part of the way we think.

  3. Talk about bias outside of educational spaces – as part of decision-making, recruiting, performance management.

What affects have you seen in the workplace when this is not addressed?

If an organisation lacks vision, trust between staff and leadership is compromised, and the biases that can exist between staff and management – the ‘us and them’ principle – are heightened. Staff learn not to trust management and therefore give merely what is required. This allows unhealthy workplace relationships to flourish and results in high staff turnover and narrow leadership.

What are the benefits of addressing unconscious bias for recruiters?

Through addressing unconscious bias, workplaces will inherently develop deeper trust between all stakeholder and instil a unified culture. This results in favourable profitability and productivity outcomes including:

  • Broader perspectives which lead to greater opportunities.

  • Clearer decision-making

  • A team who play an active and vital part in building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

Tell us about your upcoming webinar, what it will address and why should RCSA members tune in.

My upcoming webinar, ‘How to identify and mitigate unconscious bias’ will help members to:

  • Discover what bias is and how it forms

  • Learn why I take bias seriously and why they should too.

  • Find out what bias looks like in recruiting, the common forms of bias to look for, and how bias impacts recruiting.

  • Explore whether bias can be eliminated or whether to find ways of working with it.

  • Gain knowledge about where to start

The webinar will help you to understand that the key to good decision making is understanding biases and steps to follow a process taking a holistic approach. I will guide you through targeted strategies that drive successful growth and change.

Register here for Bron’s interactive webinar and tune in live on 24 August to learn how to beat your biases.

Working with asylum seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru shook Bron Williams – then a Salvation Army Minister– to the core.

Realising her own unconscious bias, which lay latent through growing up in a largely white Australia, Bron fused the insights from Nauru with her diverse career in education and not-for-profit to build an innate capacity to see beneath the surface to the behaviours we see, accept and often rally against every day.

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