A father and son were involved in a car accident in which the father was killed and the son seriously injured. The father was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body taken to the local morgue. The son was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and immediately wheeled into an emergency room. A surgeon was called. Upon arrival, and seeing the patient, the attending surgeon exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s my son!”.
My question to you is, who is the surgeon?
Did you work it out? If not, have a think about it and maybe read the piece over again, because about 40% of people usually get this wrong.
Answer: The surgeon is the boy’s mother. Yes, many of the people who come into contact with this story (maybe you too were included) don’t realise that the surgeon could be the son’s mother. They read the story, they picture the surgeon, and they automatically picture a man.
This is an example of how bias, and in this case gender bias specifically, plays out in our minds and in our thought process. But what is bias and why did in case many of us to automatically assume that the surgeon would a man?
How Does Bias Affect Our Actions?
Our bias affects us and our decision-making processes in a number of different ways:
- Perception– how we see people and perceive reality.
- Attitude– how we react towards certain people.
- Behaviours– how receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
- Attention– which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
- Listening– how much we actively listen to what certain people say.
- Micro-affirmations– how much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations.
Whether we are aware of it or not, each and every one of these things will affect who we select for interview, how we interview them, who we hire and our reasons for hiring them. Which brings me to my next point – how our bias affect the way we recruit.
How Do Our Bias Affect the Recruitment Process?
In recruitment, the following types of bias are all very common:
Based on a famous study that’s been around for decades, conformity bias relates to bias caused by group peer pressure. In the study, a group of people are asked to look at the following picture and say which line in Exhibit 2 matches the line in Exhibit 1:
One individual is told to say what they think. The rest of the group is told to give the wrong answer. We can see that line A of Exhibit 2 matches the line in Exhibit 1, but when the individual who doesn’t know this is a test is gives the correct answer only to be informed the rest of the group has said Line B, the individual decides to scrap their own opinion in favour of the groups’ opinion. A phenomenon that occurs in 75% of cases.
Just think how this may play out in a panel talking about a candidate. If an individual feels the majority of the group are leaning towards/away from a certain candidate, they will tend to go along with the group think rather than voice their own opinions.
This is the view that we tend to think that the most handsome individual will be the most successful. But this can also play out in terms of other physical attributes a person may have. For example, while 60% of CEOs in the US are over 6 foot, only 15% of the total population is over 6 foot tall. And while 36% of US CEOs are over 6.2 feet, only 4% of the US population is over 6.2 feet tall. So again, this shows some bias in terms of how we perceive a CEO should look like.
In recruitment, it’s common that recruiters will look to fill a role with someone who shares similar physical attributes to the person who held that role before or who they believe looks like the kind of person who should have the role based on their preconceived bias.
This plays out a lot in terms of recruitment! Affinity bias occurs when we see someone we feel we have an affinity with e.g. we attended the same college, we grew up in the same town, or they remind us of someone we know and like.
For example, when we interview someone we feel we have some affinity with, our micro-affirmations play out a bit more than they usually would with someone we felt we didn’t share an affinity with. For instance, if they tell us they’re a little nervous we may smile at them more, offer more words of encouragement etc. Whereas, if a person we shared no affinity with told us the same thing, we wouldn’t be quite as warm towards them as we had been to the candidate we felt we shared a connection with. After the interview, you’d then speak in much higher terms of the first candidate and how much you feel they’d “fit in” over and above the second candidate.
Halo is when we see one great thing about a person and we let the halo glow of that significant thing affect our opinions of everything else about that person. We are in awe of them due to one thing.
For example, when looking through someone’s CV/resume we may see they went to a particularly highly regarded college where they received a certain high grade, or they had undertaken some very sought after work experience program. Upon seeing that, we tend to see everything else about that person surrounded by the glow of that achievement.
The opposite of this is the “Horns” effect, where we see one bad thing about a person and let it cloud our opinions of their other attributes.
Naturally we want to surround ourselves with people we feel are similar to us. And as a result we tend to want to work more with people who are like us.
In terms of recruitment that may mean that we are more open to hiring individuals we see parts of ourselves in.
This plays out regularly in recruitment, particularly amongst recruiters who spend large amounts of time sifting through CV after CV or conducting interview after interview. If we’re looking at a number of CVs/interviews in a row, one after the other, we tend to compare each CV/interview to the one that came before it. We judge whether or not the person in front of us did as well as the person that came before them. When really, the only thing we should be comparing are the skills and attributes each individual has, to the skills and attributes required in the job, not those of the person that came directly before them.
This is the most common form of bias in the recruitment process as it affects how we access other people. When we do something well we tend to think it’s down to our own merit and personality. When we do something badly we tend to believe that our failing is down to external factors like other people that adversely affected us and prevented us from doing our best.
When it comes to other people, we tend to think the opposite. If someone else has done something well we consider them lucky, and if they’ve done something badly we tend to think its due to their personality or bad behaviour.
This is one recruiters have to be extremely careful about! When we make a judgement about another person, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions of that person. We do this because we want to believe we’re right and that we’ve made the right assessment of a person. The danger of conformity bias in recruitment, is that our own judgement could be very, very wrong and could cause us to lose a great candidate for the job.
Dealing with Bias
So how can you deal with bias and try to limit its affect on your decision-making during the recruitment process? Well, one of the best ways to look at your bias is to use what’s known as the Harvard Implicit Association test – an online assessment you can take for free to discover your unconscious bias. Take the tests (the gender one in particular), and find out how much or how little bias you have towards different members of society. By discovering your unconscious bias you’ll develop an awareness of them and open yourself up to change.