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Ways to mitigate unconscious bias

Blog from C-J Green, Group Chief People Officer, Servest

It’s unlikely that anyone would ever dispute that all human beings deserve the same rights and respect – regardless of whether they’re male, female, black, white, heterosexual, homosexual, or whether they don’t fall into any predetermined social constructs or categories. Regardless, gender equality is unfortunately still a mere spec on the horizon.

According to the latest Grant Thornton report, only 24 per cent of senior roles across the world were held by women in 2016 – and the UK fares worse than the global average, sitting at a rather pathetic 21 per cent. Put simply, one in five decision makers are female. The research also reveals that there is a complete lack of women in senior positions in over a third of businesses. If that wasn’t bad enough, the most recent Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings by the Office for National Statistics reveals that the gender pay gap (for median hourly earnings) for full-time employees decreased to 9.4 per cent from 9.6 per cent the previous year; the latter of which was the lowest since the survey began in 1997. Two per cent in the right direction is a start, of course, but it’s still rather abysmal and there’s much more to do.

At a recent diversity and inclusion event, Dan Robertson, Director at Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, stated that it will take 170 years to achieve gender parity if we continue at the current pace. I don’t know about you but I want to see things pick up in my lifetime… so, along with the rest of the Servestians, we’re actively championing the cause.

Before we can tackle the issue of equality in the workplace, it’s important that we understand what ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ actually mean. Diversity is defined as ‘the state of being diverse’ – or different. Inclusion is the action of including or of being included within a group or structure. When applied to the workforce, diversity refers to the mix of people, and inclusion is the way everyone’s treated. Organisations that invest in both diversity and inclusion are likely to have more engaged, motivated, happy and mentally healthy employees, which can lead to reduced absenteeism and improved productivity – not to mention a more supportive, caring and enjoyable work environment.

But if it were as easy as saying “right, that makes sense, let’s be diverse and inclusive!”, then we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in currently. We’re all human beings and part of being human means we naturally gravitate towards those that we share things in common. This innate tendency can sometimes trigger involuntary or unconscious bias – meaning that the physical appearance of an individual, or the way they come across, can inadvertently influence everything from recruitment decisions to management approaches. It is natural to seek a connection with others but employers must look beyond the commonalities and mitigate unconscious bias by simply being more aware of the pitfalls and by taking baby steps to modify behaviour when necessary.

We can do this in a number of ways. Firstly, be open. Make yourself and encourage others to reflect on personal biases. Have a look around – is there a chance you might have overlooked someone’s potential? Is there a member of your team that you’ve not made much effort to get to know on a personal level? It’s only when biases have been addressed that you stand a chance of mitigating them. Once you’ve made yourself more aware, step outside of your comfort zone – attend an event that you wouldn’t usually go to, have a coffee with someone outside of your immediate social circle or begin challenging stereotypes and traditional viewpoints. If this is an area that interests you, become a spokesperson for inclusion – it doesn’t mean you have to know all the answers; it just means you care about exploring the questions.

About Sarah OBeirne

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