Unconscious bias: A third of UK’s hiring managers lack training

Unconscious biases are one of the biggest diversity barriers in the corporate world, yet new research reveals that 39 per cent of UK hiring managers have not received training in unconscious bias best-practice as part of the recruitment process in their current company.

According to the World Economic Forum, it’ll take 217 years to close the gender pay gap that still exists in every country in the world. In the UK, the pay gap has been static at 14 per cent for the past three years, and according to experts, one of the biggest barriers to true economic equality is societal gender expectations and unconscious bias.

Marianna Fotaki, of Warwick Business School, is a Professor of Business Ethics, who specialises in gender diversity issues. She believes that cultural assumptions stereotyping women as less willing or able and historical patterns reflecting men’s social power explain the persistent undervaluation of women’s work.

“Behavioural ethics research also suggests that many such assumptions are due to an unconscious bias that both women and men share. Social psychologists have found that self-professed egalitarians may also be prone to such unconscious biases,” she said.

While Fotaki stresses that HR personnel in the corporate world share the responsibility in battling biases in recruitment and career development, a new survey by the Adecco Group shows that a third of UK hiring managers lack training.

The Adecco survey revealed that the largest number of respondents bank on regular training as the most effective way to eliminate unconscious bias in recruitment, followed by 17 per cent who think that removing age from CVs would have the biggest impact.

The research also revealed that two years since then prime minister, David Cameron, launched a pledge to tackle discrimination by recruiting on a ‘name blind’ basis, 65 per cent of UK organisations are still not using blind CVs.

In fact, if forced to remove one piece of information from CVs, more than double would remove hobbies rather than names to tackle unconscious bias. What’s more, just 10 per cent of respondents think that removing pictures on CVs would help people to make unbiased decisions in the recruitment process.

“Despite unconscious bias being as big an issue as ever, too many organisations are still not taking active steps to tackle the problem. Training hiring managers in unconscious bias practice and using blind CVs are relatively easy actions for organisations to take, so it’s concerning that their deployment remains relatively low,” Alex Fleming, president of general staffing, The Adecco Group UK and Ireland, said.

Fotaki explains that power operates at a subconscious level and discrimination is often tacit and rationalised post-hoc, which makes name, gender, age, and even education-blind CVs a way forward.

Unconscious bias, can in part, explain the propensity of many executives to hire in their own image, which reproduces the lack of diversity in companies’ boards. But in organisations that adopt meritocratic policies, managers tend to favour a male over an equally qualified female employee and award him a larger monetary reward, perhaps because they no longer see the necessity to address the existing inequalities or for the fear of discriminating against men,” Fotaki said.

“Human resource departments have an important role to play in identifying and acknowledging such bias (via training) and addressing this in recruitment processes. Senior women and men who tend to be over-represented in top high-paid jobs should take steps to teach other women tactics and strategies that are most effective. Making pay scales explicit could also have a major impact on transparency in promotion. Legislative protection is important, but we should not assume that a convergence in men’s and women’s earnings will automatically continue into the future without organisations taking proactive measures.”

Surprisingly, considering the relatively low adoption of traditional methods, a fifth of companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) or technology to help eliminate unconscious bias, according to the Adecco survey. A further 25 per cent are not currently using AI or technology but are looking to introduce it as part of the recruitment process.

For Fleming, seeing businesses turn to AI and technology to help tackle unconscious bias as part of the recruitment process is a promising step. With many people having questioned the effectiveness of other tactics, such as blind CVs, this might prove a more successful long-term solution, he added. “However, until this new technology becomes established, organisations must actively introduce other measures, including unconscious bias training, to ensure they are always hiring the best person for the job. Proactively addressing unconscious bias will not just bolster a company’s reputation and help them remain competitive, but the resulting increase in workplace diversity can also deliver improved business outcomes.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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