The CIPD re-launched its beleaguered flag ship title “People Management” yesterday and whilst I am bemused to be considered a power tweeter (when most of what I tweet is about people annoying me on the tube) there was an article that caught my attention about bias and how at an unconscious level it manifests for an individual.
You can find a link to the article here but the big messages are:
- 40% of respondents favour one gender (overwhelmingly women)
- 37% of respondents biased against men
- 51% of respondents would be biased against overweight women [nothing mentioned about overweight men much to my relief, although I’m sure it exists]
- 7% of respondents biased in support of people with a disability but nearly a quarter biased against those with disabilities
- Nearly three quarters of respondents reported no bias for age (which does leave the quarter who may do…)
So if you’re an overweight woman or a man with a disability – expect unconscious bias at every turn maybe?
I think the subject of bias is a fascinating one and only yesterday evening I was having a beer with some colleagues and one lady who was being grilled about her love life happened to say “I’d never date a Scottish man”, when asked why she said, “I dated a Scottish guy once and it didn’t go well”. Are all Scottish men not great at dating? But seriously, I think this anecdotally illustrates that for many bias is formed through individual experience extrapolated to form a stereotype. And for the record not all Welsh people can sing… (but we can all hold our drink – that bit is true)
As a man working in HR I have definitely experienced anecdotal bias, something as simple as a senior manager working into a department and exclaiming “Morning Ladies” to which myself or my one other male colleague would inevitably mutter “and us”. This extended to the choice of social event, Christmas party and we were definitely excluded from the wedding conversations when two female colleagues were getting married. This bias we were delighted with! Given the disadvantages women have experienced in dealing with boy’s clubs for so long it always felt petty to comment and given I’m fairly comfortable in my own skin then it didn’t really matter.
As a recruiter I’ve always been fascinated with the point where bias meets reputation – are all people who went to Oxbridge brilliant? (No) Does a London Business School MBA endow the holder with strategic genius? (No) Does the fact that an individual has worked for a particular organisation automatically make them brilliant at the things that their organisation excels at? (No).
Don’t get me wrong – some people who went to Oxbridge are brilliant, some LBS MBAs are strategic geniuses and (for example) Unilever has produced some amazing brand marketers – but it isn’t automatic.
What the People Management article has made me do is stop and think about the bias that maybe influences my decision making, reflect on whether there are patterns in my decisions about people and considering my team are recruiting and I will be involved in interviews challenge myself to surface an unconscious biases so at least I can ‘manage them out’ rather than let them influence my thinking.
There’s a great collection of thinking on bias on Wikipedia which forms some very interesting reading but I would leave you with one question: can you think about an experience that has driven you to be biased?