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What is unconscious bias, and why does it matter in the workplace?

Most people say they would never judge a person by how they look, their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or age. But according to social psychologists at the University of Washington and Yale, 90-95% of people judge people unconsciously. This is known as unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias are thoughts or feelings we’re not directly aware of, that influence our judgement. They are the attitudes and stereotypes that affect our views, our actions, and our decision-making ability, which we’ve unconsciously created from our own background and experiences. It happens automatically, and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and opinions of people and situations.

Why do we have unconscious bias?

Everyone has biases, whether we’re aware of them or not. It’s a fundamental aspect of being human. Scientists believe that these quick judgements and decisions can help us navigate the world without being overwhelmed, because the unconscious mind can process more information than our conscious minds. However, the downside of this is that prejudice occurs during important decisions such as recruitment, healthcare and criminal justice which can disadvantage people.

Why does unconscious bias matter in the workplace?

When unconscious bias is present in the workplace it can drive negative impact in the following ways:

  • talented people are left out of your workforce, or not allowed equal opportunity for development and career progression
  • diverse voices aren’t heard in meetings and decisions can be impaired
  • culture is not genuinely demonstrating inclusive workplace principles
  • employees are not able to fully contribute to your organisation
  • creativity and productivity of your team or organisation may be compromised.

Common types of bias at work

Introductions and first impressions

Foundations for first impressions come from our own experiences and sense of the world — what’s familiar to us. Our reactions to someone we don’t know may be positive, negative, or neutral depending on what’s visible or audible about them; depending on their race, perceived sexual orientation, accent or a number of other characteristics.

First impressions are powerful. We need to be aware of the impact that has on the assessment you have when you first meet them.

Stereotypes and performance bias

Performance bias occurs when people who are part of dominant groups, such as being white or male, are judged by their expected potential, while those who are part of less dominant groups such as people of colour or women are judged by their proven accomplishments.

Heidi vs Howard: Gender bias in success and likeability

In 2003 Frank Flinn, a Columbia Business School Professor and NYU Cameron Anderson ran an experiment to test perceptions of men and women in the workplace.

They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Rosin. The case described how Heidi became a venture capitalist using her outgoing personality, and vast personal and professional network, that included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.

They gave the case study to two classes of students. One class read Heidi’s story and the other class read the same story but with one difference, they changed the name from Heidi to Howard. Then, they polled the students.

Students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent, which made sense because their accomplishments were identical. Yet while students respected Heidi and Howard, Howard came across a more “appealing colleague” Heidi, on the other hand was seen as “selfish” and not the type of person you want to hire or work for.

The same data, with a single difference: Gender, created vastly different impressions. This experiment supports what research already has clearly shown which is that success and likeability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. 

Women are expected to be nurturing and care-taking, while men are expected to be assertive and action-oriented. Having to produce results and be liked makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted, negotiate on their own behalf, and exhibit leadership.

What can you do in your team, or at work?

  1. Become mindful of your own unconscious bias and reflect on it.
  2. Take the Harvard Implicit Assessment Test to see what your unconscious biases are.
  3. Call out unconscious bias when you see it. If we can create an environment where we recognise bias, we can improve together.
  4. Standardise processes like hiring by building a grading criteria, asking the same questions to candidates and setting the same tests.
  5. During the hiring process, get managers to speak last. A manager’s perspective can influence a team’s input. See what more ideas can arise, if a manager listens and speaks last.

How to write a job description to get high-quality applicants

Filling your talent pipeline with high-quality candidates isn’t easy – especially in such a crowded job market. In fact, research finds that it takes Australian companies an average of 68 days and $5,000 to fill a vacant position.

But there are ways to make your company stand out from the crowd. One way is by crafting a top-notch job description. In this post, we’ll explain how to write a job description that attracts great candidates to your company. 

How to write a job description that attracts high-quality applicants

While it’s easy to slap together a job description and blast it across multiple job sites, attracting high-quality applicants requires a more thoughtful approach. Here are five of our best recommendations when it comes to writing a quality job description. 

1. Conduct a job analysis

A job analysis is a process of collecting information about the specific role you’re hiring for. The purpose of conducting a job analysis is to ensure you’re representing the skills, knowledge, and background needed for the role as accurately as possible for applicants. While there are many ways to gather this data, here are a few ways to start:

  • Look at the job descriptions of competitors hiring for similar roles
  • Interview or observe employees who are in the same or similar role at your organisation
  • Review sites like Glassdoor to get a sense of the required skills, responsibilities, and salary of the role

2. Collect input from other employees

Another way to ensure your job description is as thorough as possible is to consult the employees within your own organisation. If you’re hiring for a Marketing Coordinator, for example, you may want to speak with other members on the marketing team – especially the manager that will be overseeing the new hire. 

If you want to take this strategy a step further, have conversations with people from other teams who are likely to work closely with the new hire. So if your Marketing Coordinator is going to work alongside your sales team, interview a few of your Account Executives to understand their expectations and perspectives.

After you put the initial draft of the job description together, you may want to have these same people review it to ensure you’ve captured all their feedback accurately. 

3. Provide all the key information up-front

Now that you have all this information collected, how do you write the official job description? The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s better to share more details, rather than less. To help you format and prioritise all of your information, below are the basic sections you should include in the job description:

  • A description of the job and job title
  • A summary of the location, role responsibilities, and preferred qualifications
  • An overview of the company culture and benefits
  • The expected salary range
  • The company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statement
  • Any additional information about potential travel requirements, work hours, etc.

The more information you provide up-front, the more likely it is that the applicant will be a good match for your organisation. When you don’t share key information, such as the salary range, you may end up wasting everyone’s time when it turns out that the compensation doesn’t align with the applicant’s expectations. 

4. Review the job description for biases

Before hitting ‘publish’ on your job description, have a third party review your job description for any biases or non-inclusive language. It’s easy to let minor mistakes slip through without realising or intending to, which is why it’s helpful to have fresh eyes on your work! 

Whoever reviews your job description should look for things like non-gender neutral pronouns or gender-coded words, internal jargon that might alienate applicants, or any other signs of implicit bias. 

5. Identify the right channels to post your job description

Finally, you want to make sure you’re publishing your job description on high-quality job sites. While it might seem like the best strategy is to spam as many of them as possible, this will only end up wasting your valuable time and money. 

Instead, we encourage HR teams to take a more targeted approach and select job sites that are known for attracting high-quality candidates. Below are a few of the websites, which are a mix of local and global, that we recommend starting with: 

A thoughtful and well-written job description is the first step to bringing more high-quality candidates into your talent pipeline. Use our recommendations to get started on the right foot. Flare HR also provides free onboarding software that can help you onboard new employees and give them the best first days and the best onboarding experience. To learn more, please request a demo.

Filling your talent pipeline with high-quality candidates isn’t easy – especially in such a crowded job market. In fact, research finds that it takes Australian companies an average of 68 days and $5,000 to fill a vacant position. But there are ways to make your company stand out from the crowd. One way is by […]