Do you think you’re free from making snap judgements about others based on their age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality or even their appearance and educational background? Think again.
We all perceive others in a way we’re often unaware of, and these underlying beliefs can have huge repercussions in the workplace, not least on diversity and inclusion. Test just how much you’re in the know of the many ways unconscious bias can play out, with our short awareness-raising quiz. After the answers at the end you’ll find a series of suggestions for how you can notice and tackle unconscious bias.
- An American research group sent to 127 male and female professors two CVs for consideration for a laboratory manager position. Both fictional candidates were white, aged 22 and had identical grades and comparable references. Can you hazard a guess at the upshot?
- ‘John’ was more likely to be hired than ‘Jennifer’ and at a starting salary of $4,000 more.
- ‘Jennifer’ was more likely to be hired than ‘John’ and at a starting salary of $4,000 more.
- Both ‘John’ and ‘Jennifer’ were equally likely to be hired and at equal starting salaries.
- A British government sting operation using false identities concluded that jobseekers with ‘white-sounding names’ could expect to receive one positive response for every nine job applications. How many CVs did they find a candidate with ‘Asian or African sounding names’ had to distribute in order to obtain an interview?
- Nine – the same as those with ‘white sounding names’.
- 12 CVs in order to obtain one interview.
- 16 CVs in order to obtain one interview.
- Only 14.5% of men in America can claim to have this attribute; yet, nearly 60% of Fortune 500 company CEOs do. What is it?
- An IQ of over 150.
- A standing height of over six foot.
- A college degree.
- Economists have found that the best-looking one third of the population makes 12% more than least attractive individuals.
- What percentage of hiring managers in the UK admit to negative biases towards individuals with certain regional accents?
- Which of the following statements most accurately describes how gender biases are formed?
- Biases are formed through socialisation, for example the gender-specific toys you’re given as a child.
- Biases are formed through the labels assigned to individuals, for example discouraging only little girls from being “bossy”.
- Biases are formed through media exposure, for example gender portrayals in cartoons, soap operas, newspapers and movies.
- Biases are formed through personal experiences of how those around us behave.
- Giving a job to the candidate you most “clicked” with, perhaps because of a shared interest or they studied at the same university isn’t unconscious bias, particularly if they’re a different gender, ethnicity or sexuality to you.
- If you perceive a colleague on a flexible working scheme as lazy or work shy, it’s not unconscious bias if later they do indeed shirk some responsibilities.
- If a new mum returns to your organisation, it isn’t unconscious bias to spare her the stress of overseas business trips for her first hectic year of working motherhood.
- Unconscious bias always stems from the way we perceive differences in others and how we behave accordingly.
1. According to a Princeton University study of 2012, the fictional ‘John’ was more likely to be hired, despite having otherwise identical characteristics to the fictional ‘Jennifer’ – an example of how the science community’s gender biases can favour males.
2. The UK’s Department for Work & Pensions found in 2009 that fictional candidates with white-sounding names could expect to receive a job interview for every nine roles applied for; a jobseeker with an ‘Asian or African sounding name’ would have to distribute 16 CVs in order to obtain the same result.
3. The Tall Book by Arianne Cohen states that only 14.5% of American men stand over six foot tall; yet 60% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are blessed with such height. One study concludes that every inch of additional height relates to a corresponding annual salary gap of £500 in favour of the tall.
4. It’s true. In Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, Daniel Hamermesh claims that this bias can, over a lifetime, amount to an earnings gap of $250,000.
5. Research by the Peninsula Group in 2015 found that eight out of ten UK managers discriminate against those with regional accents, most notably Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and London.
6. They’re all true! Gender biases can be formed at a very early age through a whole variety of factors.
7. It’s false. ‘Affinity (‘like me’) bias’ is the factor at play when a juicy role goes to the graduate of a same college or with whom you have an avid interest in a shared hobby. ‘Hiring in your own image’ can have a long-lasting effect: in the long-term it can mean that you’re likely to build a stronger relationship with that particular individual, which can ultimately lead to that person receiving more stretch assignments, better support of their abilities or increased visibility across the organisation.
8. It’s false. Ingrained prejudices become self-perpetuating through ‘confirmation bias’, whereby we seek evidence to confirm that our original perception was correct. If you have an inherent belief that employees on flexible work schemes are less committed than those working traditional hours, you may start to develop perceptions of someone working flexibly which confirm that belief.
9. It’s false. This is actually a classic example of ‘benevolence bias’. A new mum might be discounted for attendance at an overseas conference in order to spare her the added stress - a conscious decision underpinned by a plethora of unconscious assumptions about motherhood, and which may ultimately harm her career
10. It’s false. Unconscious bias isn’t just about differences. ‘Own group bias’ can see male executives perceive other males as less trustworthy or hardworking than females. And young girls fostering ‘self bias’ are twice as likely as boys to worry that pursuing a leadership role will make them seem “bossy”.
Setting to work
If this quiz has thrown up some surprises for you, you’re not alone. Follow it up by becoming even more conscious of unconscious bias with the following tips.
- Take part in Harvard University’s Project Implicit – an online test designed to uncover your own ingrained biases.
- Commit to developing your understanding further by reading widely around the topic of diversity and inclusion, such as the articles we regularly cover in our thought leadership newsletter UPDATE and those highlighted below.
- Stay mindful of your communication and how unconscious bias can creep into the job descriptions you write as a hiring manager, how you sift through CV and social media profiles, and how you speak to and about others whose backgrounds are different to your own.