Unconscious Biases - We All Have Them

16 March 2018

On Wednesday 7th of March, PER hosted a breakfast seminar on Unconscious Bias.
Luise Usiskin, a Consultant at Challenge Consultancy and former Metropolitan police officer, presented an amusing and insightful talk to more than 30 private equity hiring managers and HR professionals.  Luise highlighted some of the ways in which these unconscious biases affect our behaviours, and specifically, decisions we make during different stages in the hiring process.  These could happen at any point, from selecting CVs and testing right through to final rounds. This is of great importance to hiring managers who are committed to improving diversity across the private markets industry.  It is evident that there is a drive within the private equity community to move in this direction and eliminating some of our unconscious biases is a great way to proceed.

Luise explained how unconscious biases are formed from an early age as we begin to form schemas or categories in our minds that help us make sense of a complex world. This process, although helpful, is the reason why “unconscious biases are so automatic, pervasive and often fall within our blind spot”. The more we are exposed to a certain perception of the world, the more these categories become ingrained and increasingly difficult to reverse – an effect she humorously illustrated with a simple colour stroop test and some fascinating insight into role model imagery in children’s television programmes.  

The Colour Stroop Test

The Colour Stroop Test

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to reduce the effect of our unconscious biases.  Accepting that we have them and understanding where they lie is a great first step.  We can spot these biases through testing and the freely available Harvard Implicit Association Tests are a great tool.  https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/uk/ 

Counting everything can also help. For example, how many CVs are received, who are you shortlisting, who are you inviting for interview and selecting for further rounds.  More proactive measures such as making a conscious effort to expose staff to positive or balanced imagery/news articles can also help eliminate unconscious biases, albeit temporarily.  In addition, anonymising CVs is an easy practice to start.

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