Avoid (un)conscious prejudice

Unconscious prejudice in the workplace is still common. Bias, for example, makes you more likely to recruit someone with the same background as yourself - someone who looks like you. Bias has an effect on your organisation's recruitment and selection processes.

You can learn to become more aware of your own bias and do something about it. Employees flourish when unconscious prejudice in the workplace gives way to mutual understanding and genuine interest.

"If you have a brain, you have a bias."

There are many online tests that offer more insight into your implicit attitudes on the basis of words that you associate with people of a certain skin colour or origin. Your hidden preferences are determined by your reaction speed. The test takes about 10 minutes.

A well-known test is the Harvard Implicit Association test. It is important not to be blinded by the methodology used or the exact outcome of the test. What matters is the realisation that everyone is biased. Subconscious mechanisms often (unconsciously) influence how you read, categorise and interpret things. It is important to be aware of this and to take responsibility for discovering how bias influence your (professional) actions.


Bias at societal level

Everyone is susceptible to social bias to some extent. These forms of bias (un)consciously lead to the exclusion of people with a migrant background from recruitment and selection processes.

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Biases als recruiter

The literature lists ten errors of judgement that are common in the recruitment and selection process. It is important to become aware of these (un)conscious biases and to check whether your own judgement is subject to any of them.

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In addition to being aware of prejudices that play a role in the recruitment and selection process, it is important for recruiters to understand intersectionality. The candidate sitting in front of you is more than an m/f/x entity and is also, for example, a mother, father, brother or sister, etc.  

Intersectional thinking goes further. It recognises the effects of exclusion mechanisms and power inequalities, it makes us realise that some groups are heavily privileged. These groups represent identities that are valued by society. While other groups have a much harder time, because they deviate from the accepted 'norm'.

6 tips to limit the influence of bias

Accept that you have bias

Unconscious mental processes can make you prefer people who look like you. Being aware of your biases is the first step towards eliminating them. The affinity bias is particularly persistent - the preference for people who resemble you leads to clone preference.

Read and learn

Invest time in understanding the experiences of minority groups by exploring relevant books, podcasts, articles and blogs. Knowledge leads to greater understanding and, as a result, more awareness of places in which bias can enter, such as job advertisements.

Where is bias located?

Talking to other HR managers and thinking out loud about where biases are located helps you to eliminate them. Being aware of the subtle expression of bias also helps - an example being, 'The candidate is sufficiently qualified, but my gut feeling says no'. Decisions must be fair, unbiased and based on facts.

Don't let colleagues influence you

Any exchange of views about candidates should only take place after the interviews have been completed. If you know in advance what your colleagues think of a particular candidate, you can no longer conduct an interview objectively. Important tip: a structured interview ensures that biases have less chance of influencing your judgement.

Turn it around

How would you react if the minority behaved like the majority? For example, if you think a woman is behaving arrogantly, would you have had the same impression if it was a man's behaviour?

Focus on the benefits of diversity

There is no longer any doubt about the many benefits of a diverse workforce: more creativity and innovation, better financial performance, less absenteeism, etc. The choice for diversity must therefore always take precedence over rationales such as 'there's a click'.

The (non)sense of anti-bias training programmes

While many organizations offer anti-bias training programs, their effectiveness hasn't really been proven yet. Melissa Vink, associate professor of Social Health and Organisational Psychology at Utrecht University, analysed the scientific literature on anti-bias training and came up with six important insights:

  1. Anti-bias training is not a miracle cure. Training becomes more effective if it is part of a broader D&I policy and employees feel that inclusion is a skill on which they are evaluated.
  2. The long-term effects of anti-bias training are unclear. Behavioural change is better achieved if the training includes perspectives on how to behave, and follow-up sessions.
  3. Active training works better than passive training. Training courses using role play and other interactive methods are more effective than lectures or videos alone.
  4. Anti-bias training can have the opposite effect. It may, for example, give employees the idea that the organisation is already doing enough regarding diversity and inclusion.
  5. Training that focuses on bias against one group can create the wrong impression. For example, it could signal that something is wrong with a certain group of employees.
  6. It is best not to make anti-bias training compulsory, but to explain why participation is recommended. The obligation to participate may create resistance, while voluntary participation will only attract employees who already have a positive attitude towards diversity and inclusion.

According to Melissa Vink, anti-bias training programmes have the following prerequisites:

  • They must be in line with the vision and goals of the organisation.
  • They must be part of a broader D&I policy.
  • They must be linked to other diversity measures.
  • Their preparation must include prior identification of support, resistance and possible adverse effects.

From culture fit to culture add

Many organisations screen candidates for culture fit - i.e. does the new employee fit the values of our organisation? Do we 'click'? This process often leads to bias, when candidates are judged on gut feel. One tends to look for candidates who resemble oneself and the majority of other employees. Thus, candidates with a migrant background are often discriminated against.

Culture add can be seen as a stepping-stone to a more targeted diversity policy. Does the candidate bring new ideas and experiences to the team? This, in turn, stimulates the search for even more innovation and diversity in the team.

But be vigilant of the culture fit argument in candidate selection. A member of the selection committee may prefer a particular candidate because they fit in better with the team – which immediately raises the question this member holds this opinion. The process of putting this opinion into words often reveals subtle forms of bias.