Preventing Unconscious Bias and Creating Conscious Inclusion

Sam Stafford

Today marks Windrush Day 2020 and honours the British Caribbean community, giving thanks to their contribution to society, as well as celebrating the diverse culture that we live in. It comes at a time when people and businesses everywhere have been prompted to shift the conversation on diversity and examine racial injustice and discrimination, following the recent murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement. So this has led me to question, how can my organisation and the recruitment industry as a whole support the movement, be actively anti-racist and prevent unconscious bias whilst creating conscious inclusion.

What do I know?

Recommended by a friend I read, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” a few years back just after it was first published and I got it, but I still didn’t get it. Because I forgot about it. I fell back into my privileged way of thinking and being. I forgot that as with most things, it is a daily practice to empathise with others and to understand different perspectives and life experiences. And even more, it is a daily practice if you want to help effect change.

When I founded Sam Stafford Search at the beginning of the year, I knew I wanted to start a business that was authentic and in line with my values. Hence our mission statement, “Connecting people through best practice.” And trying to educate myself further to think about what we can do to help promote change. To promote Diversity & Inclusion, Social Mobility and Giving Back. Something Extra (which should be at the basis of everything really, rather than extra). And to be an ethical recruitment agency.

Promoting change

Trying to promote change, I recently signed a petition in line with this, to encourage the government to require organisations to publish their ethnicity pay gap alongside their gender pay gap to “shine a light on race/ethnicity based inequality in the workplace so that they can be addressed” (Rabya Aftab Lomas, the petition’s creator).

The petition, created on the government’s portal, urged the importance of introducing an ethnicity-based pay gap reporting framework similar to that already in place for the gender pay gap. 

David Isaac (Equality and Human Rights Commission chair) said the EHRC would support the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for employers with 250 or more staff. Speaking at a Westminster Employment Forum conference on BAME equality in the workplace, Isaac said significant progress could be made in improving equality if businesses published, and acted upon, the difference in pay between ethnic groups.

Shame can create the impetus for change

Ethnicity pay reporting is a fundamental step in the journey to improve workplace equality and to eliminate racial prejudice. Some organisations have been voluntarily publishing their ethnicity pay gap already, such as NatWest. They have published two reports to develop targets for how they wanted their leadership teams to look. That being said, these must be considered in the context of wider diversity and inclusion strategies to drive change.

Can we help close in on the gap alongside the right diversity approach?

Potentially but action must be taken to align diversity with business strategy. Diversity should be a business-led issue. 

Drive Inclusive Leadership and start with yourself:

  1. Learn how to challenge discrimination and unconscious bias in yourself.
  2. Learn how to challenge discrimination and unconscious bias in others.
  3. Understand the breadth and depth of the problem.
  4. Use this to develop an honest, open dialogue with friends, family and colleagues. 
  5. Identify three goals to promote inclusion and be held accountable.

Will these steps lead to success?

It’s tempting to think that simply making people and yourself more aware of biases and pointing out the unfairness of them will automatically level the playing field. The reality is they won’t.

People often believe in the benefits of corporate diversity yet fail to act on those good intentions, just in the same way those who believe in recycling don’t always recycle. It is a daily practice, just in the same way as understanding privilege and being actively anti-racist is.

What about recruitment?

In a perfect world, we recruit based solely on the skillset needed to fulfil the vacancy. Unfortunately, quite often this is not the case and unconscious bias plays into hiring decisions, regardless of best intentions. Hiring managers inherently succumb to beliefs and perceptions without realising it and these often influence their hiring decisions. 

Is there a solution?

One option is for recruiters to practice blind hiring to eliminate biases. 

Blind hiring is a recruitment practice aimed at eliminating biases based on race, gender age, ethnicity in the workplace and promote workplace diversity. In blind hiring, the recruitment process is purely based on, experience, skills, and expertise. The personal information of a candidate is removed and hiring decisions are made purely based on talents.

Some argue that blind recruitment doesn’t eliminate bias but rather delays it. When blind auditioning was trialled by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, they saw an increase of 50% more female musicians shortlisted. However, to get there, the women had to remove any heels worn so that they would not give away their gender.

So what happens at interview stage?

This is where inclusive leadership must come in and organisations really understand and have trained interviewers to be consciously inclusive. Thereby, understanding and valuing different backgrounds and experiences and consciously hiring a diverse workforce.

What are we doing at Sam Stafford Search?

We have taken steps to support the BLM cause through donating, partnering with a small black-owned business as a supplier, petitioning, educating and allowing time and space to consider what is the best course of action.

As part of our Equality & Diversity policy I agreed to: 

Regularly review our selection criteria and procedures to ensure that they remain compliant and maintain a system that ensures fairness.

Having done this and moving forward:

We will be pledging to reduce unconscious bias and be actively anti-racist through promoting blind hiring. 

For any current or new clients that we work with, we are committed to educating them on blind CVs and to promote blind hiring for the future. As a result, they will showcase experience and eliminate possible biases. 

Although we are a small business, small ripples can make big waves. We hope that through these actions we can help to progress change within the sector.