Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We think we’ll always be able to make the right decision, especially when it comes to crucial management functions like choosing the best candidate for the job. Although most of us don’t see it, bias is everywhere, particularly in the business world. It interferes with hiring, promotions, layoff and teambuilding. It can also affect advertising, marketing, product development and product placement.
We receive 11 billion bits of information every moment and we can only consciously process 40 bits per moment. That means that over 99 percent of the information we process is unconscious.
Bias can impact our thought processes and cloud our judgment—and we often don’t even realize it. Unconscious bias is ubiquitous. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests,” writes Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banaji in Harvard Business Review. “But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”
Four major unconscious bias show up in the workplace. With a little information, you’ll be better able to recognize them:
- Confirmation Bias:
This is when people create an idea in their minds and look for ways to prove it; that is, they seek out confirmation of their preconceived beliefs. Great candidates sometimes aren’t hired because something—their gender, their name, their alma mater—struck a chord with the interviewer. Perhaps the interviewer—unconsciously, of course—made a connection between the candidate’s birthplace (or age or whatever) and their perceived ability to do the job.
- Effective Heuristic:
Effective Heuristic occurs when an individual judges a candidate’s ability to perform the job by physical, superficial charactersitics—such as weight, hair color or tattoos.
- Expectation Anchor:
This happens when an interviewer believes that the candidate is more suitable for the job than others (with no evidence that he or she is), which puts a mental block on the interviewer during subsequent interviews.
Intuition Bias occurs when an interviewer makes a judgment on the basis of his or her intuition or “gut.” The problem is, while intuitively accepting the candidate in question, the interviewer is also intuitively rejecting all other candidates.
It’s difficult—but not impossible—to avoid unconscious bias. It’s part of who we are as people. But recognizing that it exists and trying your best to avoid can help us to become better at hiring the best candidates.