(Reader Note: The video version of this blog contains a sample Implicit Bias quiz that doesn’t appear in the written blog).
If you have worked with me previously, you’ll likely recall my penchant for talking to anyone in recruitment about the power of “rapid cognition.” I’ve long argued that as much as we are subconsciously interpreting, and processing, and passing judgment on the world around us (to include the mosh-pit of candidates we speak with day in and day out), we are well advised to be mindful of the fact that we too, are simultaneously being evaluated and scrutinized by the very individuals that we are attempting to engage.
Now, when I talk about passing judgement, I’m certainly not talking about playing God – I’m talking about determining the suitability and likelihood of an individual performing successfully in a specific role within my firm or a client firm (which of course will depend on your recruiting orientation). Over the years, I’ve met many in recruiting who don’t especially relish the idea of recruiters “judging” others. For them it seems just a bit too, well, judgmental. So, I’ve learned to quickly offer up the words, “Assess” or “Evaluate” as better alternatives to those who really don’t see themselves as “Judges.” I’m fine with that, and honestly, I’d like to believe that all of us are genuinely and carefully evaluating and assessing candidates on the basis of whether they meet our hiring criteria, and nothing more.
In as much as we are tasked with making thoughtful assessments, however, it’s equally important that we attempt to be cognizant of the reality that each of us has been subjected to decades of cultural socialization that may substantially impact our perspective. In other words, whether we have deliberately thought about it or not, each of us is potentially prone to viewing the world around us through the lens of something called “Implicit Bias.”
Now, if you are not familiar with the term “Implicit Bias,” let me share the Kirwan Institute’s definition: “Implicit Bias, also known as implicit social cognition, refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, or stereotypes, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.” Examples of stereotypes (where a specific group of people possess a similar characteristic) might include the idea that all police officers love Bavarian cream donuts, or that all women have nurturing personalities. Implicit stereotypes occur outside of our conscious control. For example, we may consciously concede that men and women are equally good at mathematics, but subconsciously we may tend to associate men as being more math-inclined. That’s our implicit bias.
Because these biases reside deep in our subconscious, an implicit bias is different from a conscious bias that individuals may choose to hide as a means of being politically or socially correct. An implicit bias is not likely to be something that is consciously contemplated or reflected upon. In other words, these are biases that subconsciously influence how we regard other people on the basis of their name, race, sex, weight, age, religion, disability and any number of other characteristics.
So, what’s my point? Well, needless to say, we live in a world that is ever more heterogeneous, ever more diverse, and inevitably, ever more complex. Diversity in our society and our workforce has been an ongoing progression, but not one that has always been comfortable. While I don’t think that having a better understanding for the concept of Implicit Bias will immediately result in a greater degree of overall harmony in our society – it can’t hurt.
Perhaps more than any other vocation, as recruiting professionals we have both the opportunity and ability to assure that the employment landscape within our respective firm’s is as equitable as possible.
Perhaps more than any other vocation, as recruiting professionals we have both the opportunity and ability to assure that the employment landscape within our respective firm’s is as equitable as possible. By being mindful of our own potential biases, I believe that we can be role-models to others in our organizations, and can reinforce the value of a talent acquisition process that is both fundamentally fair-minded and deliberately inclusive.
If you want to delve into your own potential for implicit bias, I highly recommend going out to Harvard University’s Project Implicit, where you can take various Implicit Association Tests that are designed to measure your personal potential to regard different categories of individuals in an implicitly biased manner. If nothing else, every now and then it’s good to look in the mirror – particularly if you value growing personally and professionally!