What is unconscious bias?

Our biases are built from our own personal experiences, and what we are exposed to around us that forms a natural tendency to make judgements or categorise people based on attributes such as e.g., gender, political view, age, background. When we believe stereotypes to be true, they influence how we think and feel about someone whether this is a negative or positive bias.

Hiring Managers always have the best intentions when it comes to hiring talent in their team, but they may not always succeed. Often, people hire people who share similar behavioural attributes or interests which can impact their judgment on how suitable they are for the job and leave them favouring a candidate who supports the same football team as them, as opposed to their ability to actually do the job they are interviewing for.

Types of unconscious bias

There are many different types of unconscious bias to be aware of, here are a few of them…

Affinity bias

Affinity bias refers to when you unconsciously prefer people who share qualities with you or someone you like. It occurs because your brain sees them as familiar and relatable.

Attribution bias

This refers to how you perceive your actions and those of others. We generally attribute our own accomplishments to our skill and personality, and our failures to external factors. However, this perception often reverses when we view other people. When they do something successfully, we’re more likely to consider them lucky or benefited by someone else, and more likely to attribute their errors to poor capabilities or personal qualities.

Beauty bias

We all unconsciously notice people’s appearances and associate it with their personality. Appearances are important, particularly in a workplace setting, as they reflect on professionalism and self-awareness.  However, it is unfair to make assumptions about an individual based on their appearance and let them affect the selection and recruitment process.

Conformity bias

This happens when your views are swayed too much by those of other people because subconsciously, we seek acceptance of our views and opinions. However, you shouldn’t let it prevent you from voicing your opinions and views even if they are different from the general trend.

Confirmation bias

This refers to how people primarily search for bits of evidence that back up their opinions, rather than looking at the whole picture. It leads to selective observation, meaning you overlook other information and instead focus on things that fit your view. You may even reject new information that contradicts your initial evidence.

Contrast effect

This type of bias occurs when you assess two or more similar things and compare them with one another, rather than looking at each based on their own merits.

However, the contrast effect can make you judge too harshly and set your standards too high. It can make you overlook the fact that you’re looking for people who can fit the role. You’re not assessing who can submit the most flawless CV or make it through the interview without a stutter.

Halo effect

This occurs when you focus on one particularly great feature about a person. You view everything about the person in a positive, ‘halo’ light. Like affinity and confirmation bias, this makes us overlook other important information.

Horns effect

It is the opposite of the halo effect. Horns effect makes you focus on one particularly negative feature about a person, which clouds your view of their other qualities. Remember that one mistake or flaw does not represent them as a whole.

There is a lot of different types, but I bet at least one of them resonates with you or an experience you have had, right?

How are we actively dealing with unconscious bias at Blue Square?

Without us even knowing about it, we are all guilty of being biased – it’s in our biology but it’s how we deal with it that matters. It’s important to remember that we are only human and some of these biases don’t come from a bad place but seeing as they influence how we think and feel, it’s important to be aware of them seeing as most of the time we don’t even realise we have them.

Unconscious bias can happen anywhere in the recruitment process from initial CV review, all the way until making the appointing decision. We believe the best way to tackle unconscious bias is through two main elements: education and objective measures. We have spent a lot of time ensuring objective recruitment processes are in place and more than anything, educating our hiring managers on the topic so they can understand their biases and challenge themselves.

For us, the first step was creating and rolling out interview skills training, including unconscious bias to our hiring managers. This not only made them aware of what this is, but also covers activities and examples to help them identify this through their own behaviour whilst recruiting. We have also covered this training internally with our recruitment team because ultimately, we are the first part of shortlisting and if we don’t educate ourselves, the process would be flawed from the start.

Secondly, we have placed a lot of focus around having an objective recruitment process in place. Candidates should be hired not on comparison to others, but on their suitability for the role based on their skills, behaviours, experience, performance during the interview and their future potential. We have created and rolled out a robust scoring matrix and guidelines at every part of our recruitment process to ensure decisions are made based on the answers provided in a fair and objective manner.

Lastly, we have implemented a standard to always have 2 interviewers present following the initial interview with the talent team to reduce the chance of bias only having one person assessing.  Whenever possible, this Talent Team member will support the hiring manager during further stages of assessment to maintain a level of consistency and as they are trained to be objective, and able to challenge the hiring manager if they spot any bias, at any time.

We are always looking to continuously improve in this area and there are lots of other initiatives we want to roll out in the future, to ensure we are minimising our unconscious biases, and removing the opportunity for discrimination at any point of our process.

Check and challenge

We need to hire people with different views and experiences, this helps the business grow. To do this, the awareness of and reduction in unconscious bias must be a priority. We encourage anyone who experiences or sees any bias during a recruitment process with us, to please reach out to us at talent@bluesquare.uk.com, feedback is so important and only helps us improve what we do. The more we check ourselves, and challenge ourselves to break stereotypical thoughts and perceptions, the more we reduce the chance of any discrimination and that is the ultimate goal.

Written by Becky Aulton, Talent Acquisition Ops Manager

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